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Enabling sustainability in a business-to-business context: how can suppliers enable and support their clients' sustainability initiatives most effectively?

Dibley, A. and Clark, M., (2011) Enabling sustainability in a business-to-business context: how can suppliers enable and support their clients' sustainability initiatives most effectively? Report. Henley Centre for Customer Management

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This research study aims to provide insights into how suppliers can enable and support their clients’ sustainability initiatives most effectively, in a business-to-business context. A detailed review of recent articles on the subject of sustainability, from academic and practitioner journals, was undertaken. A qualitative research approach was followed: eight semi-structured, in-depth interviews were carried out with senior managers from three different organisations. The literature provides evidence of an increasing belief among business leaders in the competitive advantage that sustainable approaches can bring organisations. Collaboration and engagement with all key stakeholders are critical to the success of sustainability initiatives. An organisation should first develop a clear sustainability strategy of its own, before attempting to support its clients’ sustainability initiatives. Sustainability strategy must be embedded in the firm’s overall business strategy, linked to business needs, and aligned with the organisation’s values. The following factors should be taken into account when developing a sustainability strategy: 1) The degree and type of environmental impact that the firm has; 2 The firm’s value chain and its customers’ requirements; 3) The firm’s level of maturity regarding sustainability issues; 4) The extent of regulation, requirements for transparency, and other external environmental factors; 5) The firm’s motivations relating to sustainability issues, along with its values and culture; 6) The shared concerns that exist between the firm and its stakeholders; 7) The areas of sustainability that the firm is able to address: capabilities and expertise; 8) Competitors’ achievements on sustainability, in order to benchmark industry best practice. Having developed its own sustainability strategy, the supplier firm should then determine the areas of sustainability in which it has the most capability and expertise: these are the areas where it will have the most credibility with clients. The authors recommend that the supplier should then carry out a ‘customer sustainability diagnosis’ with the client, to help the latter identify the most important areas to address: together, the supplier and client should examine all the factors that will have a bearing on determining the best sustainability strategy for the client (see bullet point list above). The supplier needs to build credibility with the client by providing evidence of success in the area of sustainability, and providing relevant benchmarking data. This should improve the supplier’s access to business decision-makers, and help the supplier to become a trusted adviser. The authors believe that suppliers should take a strongly collaborative approach with clients, focusing on understanding each client’s particular needs, and demonstrating that they have the capabilities and expertise to address their client’s sustainability issues. If they can achieve this, suppliers will be in an excellent position to enable and support their clients’ sustainability initiatives in the most effective way. It would be interesting for a future qualitative research study to explore sustainability issues in different supplier-client contexts, and in different industry settings.

Item Type:Report (Report)
Divisions:Henley Business School > Marketing and Reputation
ID Code:83746
Publisher:Henley Centre for Customer Management


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