Leading companies are starting to monitor everything from a camel’s yearly methane emissions to light bulb efficiencies amid growing pressure to demonstrate the environmental credentials of their suppliers.
Almost 40 per cent of multinational companies who took part in a new study of how businesses are handling the carbon emissions of their suppliers said they were now taking action on the issue.
Only 7 per cent were actively ditching suppliers who failed to meet emissions criteria.
But almost 60 per cent claimed they would be prepared to pay a premium for environmentally sensitive suppliers in future, and some would pay as much as 30 per cent extra, according to research by the Carbon Trust, a London-based non-profit company set up by the UK government to help companies lower their carbon emissions.
Chris Harrop, group marketing director at Marshalls, the UK stone and paving manufacturer, said he was “amazed” at the number of people suggesting they would pay a premium in the study, which surveyed senior managers in 100 companies around the world with 1,000 or more staff.
“The approach we’ve taken is that we believe that our customers should be getting those lower carbon benefits from us for around the same price,” he said.
Marshalls is one of many companies facing added requests from customers to provide evidence of green behaviour.
“I’m being asked for carbon data for probably seven out of 10 commercial tenders,” he said. “Two years ago it would have been about 30 per cent.”
One result was that in India, where camels are used to move raw materials in Marshalls’ products, the company had to figure out the carbon footprint of a camel.
“It’s about a tonne of carbon,” said Mr Harrop, thanks to the 46kg of methane one animal will emit in a year.
Executives at BT, said they were also pressing suppliers to do more to improve the efficiency of their products.
The company’s latest home broadband wireless router, for instance, contained 25 per cent less plastic than its predecessor, and used 30 per cent less energy, thanks to changes in its components, said Niall Dunne, BT’s chief sustainability officer.
Some analysts warn that, while there is value in companies trying to improve energy efficiency, people should be sceptical about how suppliers are sometimes assessed.
It can be “basically just a box-ticking exercise”, said David Metcalfe, a director at Verdantix, a research consultancy based in London. “They’re not actually saying ‘how accurate is that?’ or ‘have you had that data assured?’.”
Still, the growing focus on big companies’ supply chains represents a distinct shift in focus, said Hugh Jones, managing director of the Carbon Trust Advisory team.
“Responsibility for carbon stewardship falls to CEOs and the board,” he said. “But going forward, as carbon becomes more widely understood as a commodity, there will be increasing pressure from external sources, particularly shareholders, to make companies address the carbon intensive area of supply chain emissions.”
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