How to Respond to Sustainability Assessment Questionnaires (SAQ)


Let’s unravel Sustainability Assessment Questionnaires (SAQ)s. They often are sent to your business from your largest customers over email as an Excel spreadsheet. Or, you will be asked to log into a portal where you need to fill in 18 questions on your environmental and social data and policies. Many are asked to get a score from sustainability rating providers, like Ecovadis. They ask your company to spill the beans on everything from your Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to your sustainability initiatives. Let’s dive deep into the intricacies of what these assessments entail, why they matter, who’s spearheading this movement, and the strategic steps to take moving forward.

Why have SAQs become so popular?

Let’s take a step back to the moment when Walmart shook the sustainability landscape. Several years ago, the retail giant introduced the Supplier Sustainability Index, a groundbreaking questionnaire aimed at their key suppliers. This move, focused on tracking greenhouse gas emissions and setting ambitious reduction goals, sent shockwaves through their supply chain. Small businesses thought at first that they could simply ignore the request. But – they soon found out not doing the assessment – or scoring low across environmental and social baselines – meant they’d have a low index and Walmart could stop buying from them. Fast forward to today, and we see other industry heavyweights like Hershey, Volvo, and BMW following suit, placing similar expectations on their suppliers.

Asking suppliers sustainability questions is a growing trend

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Advanced Design & Manufacturing (ADM) Expo in Toronto. By going person to person, and booth to booth, I discovered a significant shift in the industry related to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). Nearly half of the vendors I spoke to, whether based in Canada, the US, or Europe, expressed feeling the heat of environmental expectations from their biggest clients. More companies are pressuring their suppliers to adopt comprehensive environmental policies, track emissions meticulously, and commit to ambitious reduction targets.

The six key themes in a Sustainability Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ)

So, what exactly do these sustainability questionnaires inquire about? Typically, they cover six key areas, each holding immense significance in the larger sustainability narrative:

  1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Are you actively tracking and reporting your greenhouse gas emissions?
  2. Targets: Do you have well-defined reduction goals, and are they both ambitious and specific?
  3. Action Plan: How are you planning to achieve these reduction targets? What concrete steps are in place?
  4. Environmental Practices: Beyond emissions, what measures are you implementing concerning energy consumption, water usage, and waste management
  5. Social Responsibility: Do you have robust policies addressing human rights, diversity, and inclusion within your organization?
  6. Governance: Is there a governance structure in place to ensure that your commitments are not just lip service but backed by actionable plans?

What to do when your business receives a sustainability survey

Ignoring these certification requirements, surveys, and questionnaires is not an option. Doing so could jeopardize your existing contracts and hinder your ability to secure new ones. Here’s a detailed guide on what steps to take when faced with a sustainability assessment:

  • Stay Calm and Assess: Take a moment to breathe. Rather than seeing it as a threat, view it as an opportunity to showcase your commitment to sustainability.
  • Assign Responsibility: Designate a responsible individual within your company to handle the questionnaire promptly and efficiently.
  • Seek External Expertise: If necessary, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional assistance. There are numerous resources and experts available to guide you through the process. ThisRock is one of them! Contact us – we’d love to learn more about your business

Beyond the immediate consequences of losing a client, ignoring sustainability assessments has broader implications. It hinders your organization’s ability to adapt to the evolving environmental initiatives of your clients and positions you as a laggard in an increasingly eco-conscious market. Being proactive not only aligns your business with the sustainability goals of your clients but also positions you as a reliable and forward-thinking supplier. 

Watch our recent video on SAQs. 

In-depth analysis – why take a sustainability assessment for your

Now, let’s delve deeper into each of the six key areas covered by sustainability assessments and explore best practices, case studies, and real-world examples to illustrate their significance.

  1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The Core of Sustainability – Greenhouse gas emissions are at the forefront of sustainability concerns. Companies worldwide are recognizing the urgent need to track, measure, and ultimately reduce their carbon footprint. In this section, we’ll explore the various methods of calculating emissions, the importance of transparency, and case studies of companies successfully implementing emission reduction strategies.
  2. Setting Targets: The Roadmap to Sustainability – Establishing clear and ambitious reduction targets is a crucial step in the sustainability journey. This section will delve into the science behind target-setting, the role of science-based targets, and the positive impacts companies can achieve by aligning their goals with broader environmental objectives.
  3. Crafting an Action Plan: Turning Words into Action – It’s one thing to set targets; it’s another to develop a comprehensive action plan to achieve them. In this segment, we’ll discuss the elements of an effective sustainability action plan, incorporating real-world examples of companies that have successfully translated their commitments into tangible results.
  4. Beyond Emissions: Holistic Environmental Practices – While greenhouse gas emissions take center stage, sustainable practices extend beyond just carbon footprint. This section will explore how companies are addressing broader environmental concerns, such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction, to create a comprehensive sustainability framework.
  5. Social Responsibility: Navigating the Human Dimension – Sustainability isn’t just about the environment; it also encompasses social responsibility. In this part, we’ll explore the growing importance of human rights, diversity, and inclusion in sustainability assessments. Real-world case studies will highlight the positive impacts of robust social responsibility policies.
  6. Governance: Ensuring Accountability – Committing to sustainability is one thing; ensuring accountability is another. In this section, we’ll delve into the crucial role of governance in sustainability initiatives. Examining successful governance structures and practices will provide insights into how companies can ensure that their sustainability commitments are more than mere rhetoric.

Strategic responses to supply sustainability assessments

In wrapping up this blog on sustainability assessment questionnaires, it’s evident that embracing environmental and social responsibility is no longer an option; it’s a strategic imperative. Companies that proactively engage with sustainability assessments not only safeguard their current contracts but also position themselves as leaders in an evolving market.

Thank you for joining me on this exploration of sustainability assessments. I hope this proves valuable in navigating the intricate landscape of sustainability, fostering positive change within your organization, and contributing to a more sustainable future.