Even though clients may not be asking about sustainability today, distributors shouldn’t use that as an excuse to avoid the issue altogether.
McGarvey recalls a conversation he had with a director of facilities for a school district that had recently finished a green cleaning survey.

“He said, ‘This movement is going to cost some people their jobs. People who get on board with it will be fine. People who resist will regret it,’” says McGarvey.

The first thing any distributor who wants to focus on sustainability must do is get commitment from senior leadership.

“Without top-down commitment, it’s hard to justify working on a project,” says Ashkin.

Distributors can build a green or sustainability team that includes representatives from a number of departments such as sales, customer service, human resources and warehouse operations.

“Sustainability can address almost every aspect of what goes on within the building, and touch on a lot of different layers and areas within an organization,” says Ashkin.

Of the survey respondents, 33 percent have a staff member or committee tasked with sustainability goals; 45 percent of those respondents have had the position or team in place for longer than five years.

With “sustainability” in her job title for six years now, Hesselink, a 20-year veteran of Nichols, has become the go-to recycling resource and more. Not only do Nichols’ customers ask her about the company’s sustainability efforts, they are even brought up in requests for proposals, says Hesselink.
Once distributors finish assembling their teams it’s time to identify the road maps — what do they want to track to illustrate sustainability? One way to get started is to conduct analysis to measure a company’s current economic, environmental and social impact.

There are several resources available to distributors, including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and ISO standards, which can provide a company with sustainability reporting guidelines.

Once distributors figure out what they are going to track they can set sustainability targets and goals. Software programs can help establish benchmarks and help determine where there’s room for improvement.

While achieving sustainability has gotten easier, it’s still a challenging journey.

“There’s still a perception out there that no matter what we do it costs more,” says Hesselink. “But that’s simply not true.”

Rebecca Kanable is a freelance writer based in Milton, Wis.

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