Walmart and Annie's keep score of supplier sustainability

Even much smaller firms such as Annie's Homegrown Inc., a food company based in Berkeley, Calif., use scorecards to assess supplier and manufacturer sustainability.

But Annie's has one important advantage over Walmart: Its sustainability efforts began when the company was founded in 1989.

Annie's recently conducted a lifecycle assessment that showed it was reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1.5 million kg by growing organic wheat, the main resource used in its products.

"It validated what we believed to be true," said Shauna Sadowski, Annie's director of sustainability.

Scorecards, however, aren't always helpful for Annie's, Sadowski noted at the Forum.

"Some farmers are doing amazing things working with the natural environment," Sadowski said. "There's no scorecard for that because it's so integrated with nature -- with root systems. Really complex stuff. A quantitative system is going to be difficult for that. That's why we need to be open to change."

But Annie's has definitely seen some benefits of using scorecards to push supplier sustainability. When the company started presenting green supplier awards for energy and water efficiency, for example, Sadowski began receiving emails from suppliers about how they might be recognized the following year.

What really makes the difference in having a sustainable supply chain comes down to the relationships between the company and suppliers, Sadowski said. Some of Annie's relationships with its suppliers and manufacturers date back to the company's founding.

"Our focus is on relationships and engagement when we're trying to get true behavior change," Sadowski said. "There needs to be conversations one on one."

Photo of John Davies, Brittni Furrow, Kim Marotta and Gary Beck by GreenBiz Group.