A supply chain management survey unveiled that 50% of respondents rated themselves as beginners in approaching supply chain sustainability.

The study, supported by GFK Eurisko, Italy, and Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex), New York, surveyed more than 1,400 professionals from Europe, Asia and America to identify a set of front-running companies, defined as leaders, who have a more structured approach to sustainability in their supply chain.

The leaders have moved away from self-conducted initiatives and penetrate all tiers of their value chains with their actions. They are more active than average companies and apply more structured approaches. For example, they involve third parties to a much higher extent when auditing suppliers against their own protocols or recognized methodologies, and 30% provide their suppliers with dedicated training. By implementing sustainability in their supply chain, they say they have gained brand reputation (65%), improved their ability to meet customer needs (58%) and increased market shares (32%).

“Building sustainable supply chains is no longer a voluntary initiative based on unstructured attempts. Companies that have experienced positive effects from their actions have adopted a more systematic approach. Those able to tackle it in a strategic and holistic way can manage their risks better and reap benefits, while responding to legislative, stakeholder and global demands,” says Luca Crisciotti, chief executive officer of DNV GL – business assurance.

Overall, companies feel greater pressure to show they have a sustainable supply chain today than in 2014 (86%; +6%), and 76% say that customers are the main drivers influencing sustainable supply chain management. Nine out of 10 professionals say that supply chain sustainability is key when making buying decisions themselves. Nevertheless, pressure comes from multiple direct and indirect stakeholders.

Of the respondents, 81% have taken at least one action to improve their supply chain sustainability. However, actions are mainly self-conducted and limited to “Tier 1” suppliers, and fewer actions are taken further out in the value chain. A direct audit of some suppliers has been undertaken by 39% of the companies, 36% have required suppliers to provide information and 32% have either had a dialogue with suppliers to address the challenges or implemented a sustainability policy. Only 7% of the respondents say they have reached out to all tiers of their supply chain.

“Managing risks across the entire supply chain can be challenging and requires the collection of supplier performance data to efficiently create visibility further down the value chain. However, companies can leverage advancements in big data analytics, data sharing platforms and blockchain technology to help collect and measure supplier performance in a structured and reliable way,” says Crisciotti.

The study reveals that disclosure of information about sustainability in the supply chain is still in its early stages, despite the opportunities offered by digitization. Only 20% of respondents, including among leaders, have published information about their supply chain.