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A Ripple Can Lead To A Wave Of Change

What we purchase matters. Diana Rosenberger shares how we all -- as individuals and as companies -- can make a difference through our buying decisions.

Diana Rosenberger

Small steps can lead to big impact. When I shop for items in my personal life, I strive to purchase things that align with my personal values. It may seem like the $4 I spend on a kitchen soap - that I know has been screened for chemicals of concern - has little impact, but really, everything we buy sends a signal to the market that we support the values behind the products and companies from which we buy.

Not only do we as individuals wield power in our choices and purchases, but companies have a big part to play as well. In my role as global sourcing manager at Shaw Industries, I work daily to bring the company’s commitment to sustainable purchasing to life - to influence markets and our supply chain with the significant purchasing power of a $6 billion global company.  

Recently, Shaw signed the UN Global Compact, and we instituted a new Sustainable Sourcing Policy that incorporates the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact and brings even greater transparency into our supply chain by requiring disclosures about the ingredients that go into the products we make and sell. 

This extends the positive impact Shaw is making beyond our own operations to a vast array of suppliers providing goods and services to Shaw. Each step we take to understand the materials they use, or to help them improve their sustainability performance, has a ripple effect that can create a wave of change -- not only for Shaw’s products but for the industry.

Over the past decade, sustainability has shifted from a focus on traditional environmental impacts related to a company’s operations (such as water, energy, and waste) to one that includes a keen focus on people and community. 

The ingredients in our products matter as much as how they are made. Thanks to Shaw's commitment to Cradle to Cradle principles, material health has long been a part of our product development process. In fact, we continually evaluate and reformulate our products’ chemical make-up, as new information and alternative ingredients become available -- often based upon our collaboration with suppliers.   

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit a dozen of Shaw’s global suppliers and talk to them about our commitment to sustainability and material health in our supply chain. Though we regularly engage our suppliers around these topics, it was an important to build in-person relationships and see our suppliers’ operations in action.  

I was impressed with measures taken to protect the environment and human rights which came as the result of local pressures, customer demands and government regulation. My colleague and I saw first hand innovative closed-looped water recycling systems, investments in waste-to-energy and solar panel arrays.  We heard about the responsibility factory owners have for their workers health and safety, which is often supported by annual social responsibility auditing.

The newer frontier and opportunity for engagement is around material health and product chemistry. Based upon the conversations I had, it was clear that Shaw’s work around material ingredients has raised the bar for the industry. 

Meeting with our suppliers in person afforded me the opportunity to explain why we have such a deep commitment to material safety and optimization, our alignment with Cradle to Cradle principles and what we need to document that effort. The conversation around a boardroom table and on a facility tour is so much richer than emails crossing time zones and bridging language and culture barriers. By traveling and spending time in global facilities where Shaw purchases are made, we could understand the heart of their operations- inspect their raw materials, walk down manufacturing lines, and ask questions in a way that could never happen long-distance.  

I'm proud to work for a company that invests so much in the products we provide. We are committed to  ensuring that no matter where in the world a product or ingredient is sourced or made, it is held to the same high standards that Shaw sets for itself. 

My recent trip left me with the tangible reminder that:
  • Relationship building is critical to fostering the trust that leads to collaboration and innovation that will drive market leadership. 
  • Global sustainability is about continually raising the bar -- taking steps toward greater transparency, and getting incrementally better each day
  • No one can solve complex sustainability issues alone.  We each have a role to play and partnering with the right suppliers makes all the difference. 

What we purchase matters -- whether in our day-to-day lives as individuals or as a global manufacturer.