Getting supplier data at all stages of maturity in a food company’s sustainability journey is painful.
The key reasons are:
- Data requirements aren’t clear - this is a problem in many sustainability teams (even more so in the teams of upstream suppliers). Companies need to know what data fields are required (or superfluous), and suppliers need clarity on what data to collect.
- Data requests are time intensive - sustainability teams spend too long putting together data requests. This gets even worse for suppliers dealing with multiple requests across all formats e.g., PDF and spreadsheet formats. Excel is the best of these rudimentary options but has major issues with edit rights and version control.
- Data sharing is feared - there is a substantial amount of secrecy and feet-dragging in some supply chains. Part of this is down to IP concerns, with more granular data requests suppliers don’t want to expose their proprietary techniques.
Advice From the Field:
- Define outcomes: Start by making a list of all the data that you want to gather, and then work towards that goal rather than having to keep going back asking teams for more.
- Digistsed tools: Systems and software can help with dealing with fragmented data from multiple sources. They reduce the amount of resources and time needed to capture a wide range of sustainability information.
- Strategic hires: One of the most valuable sustainability hires that you can make is a data literate professional. This is a skillset that most sustainability teams are light on. Look for people who understand data infrastructure and flows and can engage with the IT team. This can be an external hire or a lateral shift from someone in the IT department.
- Organisational set up: Make sustainability data collection a small part of everyone’s job rather than piling it onto one individual. Having a member of the IT team spend time with the sustainability team, for example, can help improve internal collaboration, efficiency and understanding of each other’s processes.
- Beyond carbon: Look for opportunities to measure factors beyond carbon, as many small or niche supply chains have not looked much beyond this area. The key to this is tagging your data appropriately from the outset.
- Internal engagement: Take colleagues on the journey with you and enthuse them in the process. Train them in the systems you use and take your time to explain the business case.
Initiative in practice: Gousto
Gousto organised a hackathon across two days, engaging tech teams to get involved in solving sustainability problems. The initiative led to the establishment of solutions that would have otherwise taken months of asking for staff time and resources e.g., approaches to bringing different data sources together to understand a comprehensive view of their carbon emissions. It had the added bonus of laying the groundwork for tech teams’ future engagement with the sustainability team on a more ad hoc basis.