Walmart, Target, Microsoft, oh my! These are just a few (albeit reigning) of the customer questionnaires driving the rapid increase in sustainability, CSR (corporate social responsibility), and ESG (environment, social, governance) reporting that we are seeing today.
As the spotlight grows on all companies, Fortune 500s and small businesses alike, to be reporting on and managing their impacts, the number of customer questionnaires also grows. Whether you are a large manufacturer supplying product to multiple retailers or a small business starting your sustainability journey, you may find yourself buried in questionnaire reporting at any given time of the year. Below are a few tips to help you respond faster, more effectively, and with more substantive information.
- Understand your customer’s intent. Some companies use their vendor sustainability questionnaire as a way to create a two-way relationship with their suppliers and seek out vendors who are highly invested in sustainability and responsible procurement. Others use it simply as a way to capture emissions so they can accurately report their total carbon footprint. Many others fall somewhere along this sustainability spectrum.
It is important to understand the intent of each customer so you can respond with your best foot forward on the aspects of the questionnaire that matter most. For example, if a customer just wants to know you are thinking about your climate impact, you may not need to complete all aspects of the questionnaire this year. If it is not immediately clear what the intent is, send a well-crafted email to the contact that has been shared with you to help you define your sustainability goals.
- Get organized. The most critical step in successfully responding to a customer questionnaire is having access to the information being requested. Do not be afraid to get meticulous about your data and how it is being recorded. The more organized you are, the faster you will be able to pull the information you need and “slice & dice” data based on the nuances of each customer request (e.g. emissions attributable to a particular customer based on percent spend or percent production).
An often-forgotten component of getting organized is being prepared to make the business case to your leadership. If your company hasn’t invested much in sustainability, climate, or CSR to date, there will be several actions you will need to take to even be able to respond to the customer request, such as calculating your Greenhouse Gas emissions or completing a baseline CSR/ESG assessment. Be ready to make this request for time, resources, and/or budget and explain the importance of doing so (or the risk in not doing so).
- Start early. A common mistake we see in many organizations, whether they see themselves as a climate leader or are just getting started, is expecting that the requested environmental, community, or workforce data will be easily attainable. The data is often housed in multiple departments, so even understanding who owns the data can take some time. Then, debates over what information your organization is willing to publicly disclose can take even more time. Start early to give yourself enough time to respond with your best data. Make sure the right people are signed up to receive updates from the reporting platform so you can be notified when the questionnaire is available and can take note of the data you will be asked to report.
If you are stuck in customer sustainability reporting or need support in responding to CSR, ESG, or other climate questionnaires, contact us for a quote! SBC has supported dozens of companies on responding to reporting requests, improving scores, and setting you up to be successful on your own.