The Sourcing Team Ltd – A small businesses approach to responsible sourcing

Our Newcomer member, The Sourcing Team Ltd, are an ethical sourcing company that have been specialising in branded marketing products since 1996. From the outset they‘ve been committed to best practice in all they do, priding themselves on paying the utmost care and consideration to their  impact on people, communities and the planet. So who better to speak to about responsible sourcing!

We asked Sharon Childs, Head of Sustainability and Finance Director, to share with us some of the challenges they face as a supplier and how businesses can ensure they are having a positive impact through their supply chain.

As a supplier, what are some of the challenges for The Sourcing Team in demonstrating and staying committed to your sustainability values?

As a small business, we do not have a dedicated resource, meaning sustainability is something that has to be fitted in around the ‘day job’ rather than being the job itself. We find that tenders can often be a ‘tick box’ exercise which do not allow smaller companies such as ourselves to showcase our expertise and USPs. Companies are often asked to join extensive platforms in order to trade and buy on price even when offered a sustainable alternative at a little extra cost. For us, promotional merchandise is a high-risk area and requires full due diligence to protect a client brand.

So, how does The Sourcing Team overcome these challenges?

We ensure our credentials are robust

We have IS09001 and ISO14001. We are buyer/seller AB members of SEDEX and are rated on the CIPS Sustainability Index and EcoVadis (Gold). We are also signatories to the United Nations Global Compact and a London Living Wage Employer. Some memberships of these organisations can be costly but we choose carefully based on what we can learn from them (completing these questionnaires focuses your goals for sustainability and ensures you strive to improve year on year) and what value our clients place on the memberships.

We engage with our supply chain up and down

We operate a transparent supply chain and share our knowledge with our supply partners as well as our clients. We work with trusted, ethically approved suppliers who share our values. Our Sedex membership enhances that transparency. If you are confident about your supply chain then your client can be confident about you. As part of this process we have an annual review with suppliers to really understand their challenges and support them as much as possible.

We ensure our staff are engaged and motivated

Sustainability is at the forefront of all our decisions and our staff are all fully engaged. We have a ‘green team’ so that the extra workload is shared and different opinions are offered. By involving staff from all areas of the business we get a well-rounded and diverse view.

We’re innovative

It’s all about thinking differently – offer your clients something outside of the norm – an example of this is our sustainable charity collection box.  We did a collection for a charity client and questioned where their charity collection containers ended up – ‘in landfill’ they said. We worked with the client (Macmillan) and our UK supply partner to produce a container made from recycled milk bottles that has a full end of life plan). And it costs less! We have now rolled this out to several UK charity clients.

We make sure we stay ahead of the game

By using free resources and learning tools and just reading about current issues such as The Modern Slavery Act we continually build our knowledge and improve our working practices. We review our policies annually to make sure they are still robust and relevant.

We shout about our achievements

Share your successes with your clients so they can see you are committed to best practice in sustainability – this year we won an EcoVadis award for best SME in Europe in our category and it was a great excuse to contact our clients! It doesn’t have to be an award but an improved score on a sustainability platform or joining something like Heart of the City gives you something to tweet, blog and share with the wider world. And remember, employees want to work for responsible businesses who are doing the right thing.

What are your top three tips for Heart of the City members wanting to better manage their supply chain?

  1. Don’t assume because suppliers are UK or European based that they buy ethically or sustainably
  2. Create supplier selection criteria based on what is important to your business
  3. Engage with your suppliers and ask meaningful questions, don’t just let it be a tick box exercise

What are some example of good questions our members should be asking their suppliers?

It’s important to get a feel for the supplier and ask questions that help you determine their ethics, the way they work and how responsible their thinking is. Things to consider asking include..

  1. Do you have a code of conduct and is it available to view?
  2. What steps are you taking to manage transparency in your supply chain?
  3. Do you have some examples of transparency to share?
  4. What do you know about working conditions in your chain?
  5. How do you consider sustainability in your offering?
  6. Do any products you supply have an end of life plan or an alternative, more sustainable option? (If your supplier is a service only provider they should still have some sustainable merits they can share with you!)

Sharon Childs is Finance Director
and Head of Sustainability at The Sourcing Team.
She has been with them since 1996 and became their
Sustainability Champion in 2010.


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