Sustainability Pressure: Creditors and Customers Show No Quarter

But why do firms engage in supply chain sustainability in the first place? This is a deeper question than survey results alone can answer. However, in four consecutive years of data collection, we have observed consistent patterns in the responses to questions about the pressures that firms feel to increase supply chain sustainability.

Firstly, firms certainly report feeling pressure to make their supply chains more sustainable —and that pressure appears to be growing over time from each of the 10 potential sources that we measure. Notably, none of the pressure sources show meaningful decline over time. That is, across 10 different possible types of pressure, each one appears to have increased over four years of observation. In 2023, pressures appear to have plateaued at the 2022 level, but not fallen (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 also shows that, far and away, investors are the fastest growing source of pressure, with a 25% increase in average respondent score over the period of observation. *

In terms of growth, investors are followed by corporate buyers, with a 15% increase in average pressure ranking over the same time period. We have consistently observed this outsized and growing role of investor pressure over four years. In the modern environment, commercial interests—be it access to capital gated by sustainability-minded investors or sales opportunities gated by sustainability-minded procurement teams—represents supply chain managers’ fastest-growing source of pressure to improve supply chain sustainability.
Companies say, “Hey, as a supplier of ours, here’s what our expectations are of you.… You need to hit X, Y, and Z when it comes to ESG.” That is happing more and more often. But another piece is on the value creation side, where the shippers will say, “Not only do we require this of you as a bare minimum of what you’re doing with your own work, but how can you help us? What are some of the basic things we can do together to reduce emissions?”

Rachel Schwalbach, Vice President for Environmental, Social, and Governance, C.H. Robinson

Figure 3: Level of pressure from top 2023 sources year over year