Consumer goods bring countless benefits to society, dramatically improving lifestyles around the world. These benefits however come with an increasingly sizeable sustainability price tag—both for people and the planet. Global production and use of consumer goods accounts for more than 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions,1 80 percent of water usage,2 and two-thirds of tropical forest loss globally.3 With 2.5 billion more people joining the consuming class in the next few decades, we must address the production, use, and disposal of consumer goods: a sustainable world requires sustainable production and consumption.
While progress has been made to make some consumer products more sustainable, the real imperative and opportunity for impact is to make all consumer products more sustainable. The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) was created in 2009 to transform the consumer goods industry by partnering with leading companies, NGOs, universities, and government organizations to define, develop, and deliver more sustainable products.
TSC uses a market-based approach to drive change. We believe that, if one retailer incentivizes more sustainable products, it can make a difference—but if multiple retailers send the same market signal, the world can change. TSC and its members have created a sustainability measurement and reporting system that now covers 80–90 percent of consumer goods.4 TSC uses science to identify the hotspots in different product categories’ life cycles, alongside stakeholder engagement and strategic partnership with other leading sustainability initiatives to develop key performance indicators in the form of a manufacturer survey. In 2015, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger, and other retailers used these surveys to assess the state of sustainability of their products: this report summarizes those findings and provides recommendations towards action.
TSC research shows that, with most products, the most significant environmental and social hotspots exist largely upstream from the manufacturer in their supply chain or downstream from consumer use and product disposal. Responses from over 2,500 surveys and 1,700 suppliers indicate, however, that most manufacturers have limited visibility into their supply chains and their related sustainability risks. Nevertheless, by enabling retailers and procurement teams to send a market signal to such a broad range of manufacturers, TSC has helped transform what were once blind spots into hotspots. The next step is taking action on these hotspots: the data demonstrate how sustainability leadership in different product categories is both possible and already exists, and so the vision of making all products more sustainable is now a realistic one.
Three steps are needed to green global supply chains by moving from hotspots to actions. First, retailers should commit to a common platform to measure and track consumer product sustainability. Retailers and procurement teams are uniquely positioned to influence consumer products and their supply chains. Second, manufacturers should drive supply chain visibility and performance, which will also enhance their own business outcomes and reduce risk. Third, stakeholders should partner to align and drive scale: companies, NGOs, and other organizations can work together to create scale by harmonizing existing metrics and tools, and drive continued momentum by collaborating on shared initiatives to address key hotspots.
Our goal is to create a consumer-goods ecosystem that is sustainable using a common approach to measuring and tracking the product sustainability of $1 trillion of retailer sales over the next five years. We believe this is achievable and meaningful enough to tip the balance in consumer goods supply chains towards transformational change that also spurs innovation and growth.