Supplier insights from Better Buying’s latest research reveal that some of the most impactful measures are low cost, and require minimal changes to a brand’s workflow.

The findings are summarised in a special report on ‘Purchasing Practices and Sustainability: What improvements are suppliers seeing?

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Investments in alternative technologies – such as 3D design or virtual sampling technology and software upgrades for data-driven analysis – are among measures with win-win potential for buyer-supplier business partnerships, but are not yet standard industry practice. 

Just 8.9% of suppliers surveyed by Better Buying reported being supported by their customers to invest in cost-saving alternative technologies.

The deep-dive into the sustainability impacts of buyers’ purchasing practices was included for the first time as part of the 2020 Better Buying Purchasing Practices Index (BBPPI). 

In addition to looking at the social sustainability impacts of buyer purchasing practices – which Better Buying has been monitoring since 2016 – suppliers were asked a number of new questions about how their buyers’ purchasing practices impact the “3 Ps” of sustainability: People, Planet and Profit.

The research focused on 4 key areas: design and development; investment in cost-reducing alternative technologies; expectations and incentives for CSR, compliance and environmental sustainability performance; and the impacts of steep variations in month-to-month order volume. 

Many suppliers in global supply chains have a strong commitment to operating more sustainably and have valuable insights into how their buyers can improve their purchasing practices in order to save on costs and reduce waste.

Some of the most impactful changes cited by suppliers do not require expensive investments or drastic changes to a buyer’s workflow. 

Being able to speak directly with the individuals who have intimate knowledge of a design concept, for example, as opposed to other team members, can help resolve any questions or concerns about design details early on in the process. While better alignment between sample requests and actual orders reduces wasted time, materials and financial resources.

And where buyers offered incentives for improved performance, the potential impact on sustainability was greater – as long as the incentives were the right ones, and offered direct financial benefits to the supplier.

“By engaging with Better Buying, brands and retailers can access data-driven insights and suggestions from their suppliers, and begin to work in partnership with them to address shared sustainability goals, reduce their environmental footprint, and to improve accountability to shareholders, investors, and consumers,” says Dr Marsha Dickson, president and co-founder of Better Buying.

According to feedback from suppliers, the top sustainability efforts currently being made by buyers are giving feedback on why they had rejected samples, setting a target price prior to the development stage, improving the conversion rate for samples (which one supplier reporting that about 30% of their material waste was due to dropped styles), and cutting down on the number of physical samples.

The Better Buying initiative is continuing to gather momentum, with the 2021 rating cycle its best yet, securing a record number of 1,240 supplier ratings.

The upcoming 2021 Index Report will also provide a first look at how brand and retailer purchasing practices have changed during the global pandemic – and offer pointers on the key areas that will need to be addressed as the garment industry rebuilds after Covid-19.