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Green Global Sourcing – Navigating Sustainable Supply Chains In China

Written by: Laura Dow, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Laura Dow

In today's interconnected world, global sourcing is fundamental to many businesses, propelling economic growth and prosperity. However, smart buying is not enough. Consumers’ increasing concerns for the environment have created a demand for eco-friendly products. As this demand becomes more and more uncompromising, sustainability is emerging as a critical factor shaping global sourcing practices. Businesses that fail to meet the expectations of concerned consumers risk losing market share. Consequently, companies worldwide are reevaluating their supply chain strategies to ensure alignment with environmentally responsible principles.

Accelerating investment in renewable energy, sustainable and clean tech.

This article delves into the increasing significance of sustainability in China sourcing. It identifies key challenges and offers solutions, resources, and tools to aid in the development of sustainable supply chain management in China.


From the “world’s factory” to green global sourcing

China's status as the "world's factory" is indisputable, thanks to its extensive manufacturing capabilities and vast supply chain networks. Over time this success has come at a cost, with traditional sourcing practices contributing to environmental challenges: pollution, resource depletion, and increased carbon emissions. Addressing these issues has become imperative for China manufacturing and international businesses reliant on China for their supply chain needs.


Chinese suppliers are attuned to the needs of their market and are aware of the increasing need for Environmental Social Governance (ESG) accountability. In recent years, the country has made significant strides in adopting sustainable practices, with numerous companies demonstrating that competitiveness and environmental responsibility can go hand in hand. Examples of progress related to ESG in China include the integration of renewable energy sources, waste reduction programs, adoption of renewable raw materials, and adherence to stringent emission standards.


Last April, I attended Sourcing Journal’s Sustainability Summit in New York City, where I had the privilege of witnessing companies, both large and small, share their journeys towards more sustainable practices in their supply chain management in China. Two notable examples were HanesBrands and Walmart.


HanesBrands implemented sustainable China manufacturing practices by investing in energy-efficient technologies and reducing water consumption and waste in its production processes. Additionally, they emphasized responsible sourcing by partnering with suppliers who adhere to strict environmental and social standards, ensuring fair labor practices and safe working conditions according to their Global Standards for Suppliers (GSS) criteria.


Walmart has also leveraged its global influence to drive positive change throughout its supply chain management in China. As outlined in its 2023 Environmental, Social, and Governance Summary Report, the company has focused on numerous sustainability priorities, including investing in renewable energy leadership, striving for zero waste in operations, products, and packaging, and promoting the regeneration of natural resources.


Implementing sustainability: International standards and verification

Part of what makes these success stories inspiring is how they overcame the considerable challenges associated with implementation. While discussing sustainability is easy, ESG in China is difficult to implement. Verifying the authenticity of sustainable practices on the ground is an enormous task, requiring adherence to key international standards and due diligence through in-person audits that assess a supplier's commitment to sustainability.

Identifying which standards to follow and how to prioritize and implement the necessary audits is the first step. To address this, I have compiled a list of some widely accepted international standards and corresponding audits:

  • ASPCA (Association of Professional Social Compliance Auditors)

  • BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative)

  • ISO (International Organization for Standardization)

  • RBA (Responsible Business Alliance)

  • SA8000 (Social Accountability 8000)

  • SEDEX (Supplier Ethical Data Exchange)

  • WCA (Workplace Conditions Assessment)

  • WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production)


Overcoming transparency & implementation challenges

One of the primary challenges importers face in sustainable sourcing is the lack of transparency within the supply chain. Establishing transparency requires collaboration between stakeholders, including suppliers, manufacturers, and consumers. Putting in place robust traceability systems, fostering open communication, and conducting regular audits are crucial strategies for overcoming these challenges and ensuring a sustainable supply chain.


When evaluating a supplier's sustainability practices, importers should consider factors such as the supplier's commitment to renewable energy, waste reduction initiatives, and adherence to international standards. Engaging in transparent communication with suppliers, seeking third-party certifications, and incorporating sustainability criteria into supplier selection processes are practical steps importers can take to ensure sustainable sourcing.


While managing all these steps may seem daunting, there are some simple ways to achieve greater transparency in your China supply chain. One approach is to work with a trusted local team on the ground, experienced in providing direct access to your suppliers at all levels, from Tier 1 down the line, and trained in the sustainable supply-chain requirements. An expert China sourcing agency can handle communication, schedule and implement audits, and assist with post-audit improvement processes.


Another option is to leverage third-party services and tools designed to evaluate and improve the sustainability practices of suppliers in China and other regions. When combined with a China sourcing agency on the ground, these tools and services can help companies achieve green global sourcing.


Some examples of these include:

  • Bureau Veritas: Offers sustainability assessments and audits to help companies evaluate their suppliers' environmental and social practices, including compliance with international standards.

  • CSRHub: Provides sustainability ratings and data on companies' environmental, social, and governance performance, including assessments of their supply chain practices.

  • DNV (Det Norske Veritas): Provides sustainability services, such as supplier assessments and audits, to help companies assess and manage the sustainability risks in their supply chains.

  • EcoVadis: Provides sustainability ratings and assessments for businesses worldwide.

  • Esger: Provides sustainability assessment and monitoring tools for supply chains, helping companies evaluate and manage the environmental and social impacts of their suppliers.

  • Intertek: Offers sustainability services, including supplier audits, risk assessments, and compliance verification, to help companies ensure responsible sourcing practices.

  • SupplyShift: Provides supply chain sustainability software that enables companies to assess, track, and improve the sustainability performance of their suppliers.

  • Sustainalytics: Offers sustainability research and ratings, including assessments of companies' supply chain management practices and performance.

  • UL (Underwriters Laboratories): Provides sustainability services, including supply chain audits and assessments, to help companies evaluate and improve their suppliers' environmental and social performance.


Conclusion: The art of the possible

The rise of the conscious and concerned consumer underscores the need for companies to integrate sustainability into their brand identity. As businesses recognize the importance of sustainable sourcing, supply chain management in China is shifting towards greener and more responsible practices. Importers who harness this trend will benefit greatly.


Building a sustainable supply chain foundation may seem daunting, but the endeavor will undoubtedly be worth it, both for a cleaner environment and financially. Businesses should focus on what they can control, using a step-by-step approach to implement more eco-friendly practices:

  1. Outline the environmental, social, and economic factors related to your product.

  2. Understand the related international standards.

  3. Set clear and achievable sustainability goals based on your client's requirements and international standards.

  4. Implement your goals with on-the-ground human expertise, combined with tools and services. This combination will improve communication and increase transparency.

  5. Maintain continuous communication and monitoring with all suppliers and stakeholders; modify and improve processes as needed. 


Implementing these steps will help deliver a transparent and enforceable process for businesses, enabling them to achieve green global sourcing and promote their sustainable credentials in the marketplace.

Follow Laura on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and visit CPG’s website for more tips on sourcing from China.

Laura Dow Brainz Magazine

Laura Dow, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Laura Dow, Business Director at CPG, manages growth and its key components: business development, marketing, client success, and finance. In her role, Laura establishes company growth objectives, designs and executes strategies and protocols to enhance overall performance, and oversees budgets and financial activities. Laura began working in China in 2006 as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sichuan province. She holds a Master’s in International Affairs and Chinese Studies from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Ms. Dow speaks English and Mandarin fluently.



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