Same day or two day shipping at a busy small business is hard to say no to. For Mad Fish, ordering on Amazon used to be the way we handled many of our purchases. However, as a purpose-driven digital marketing agency, we knew that on an ongoing basis, reducing waste and increasing our supplier diversity was important. 

Amazon is known for its fast delivery and wide assortment of products. Unfortunately, those same perks for consumers can result in injuries and questionable labor practices for employees. In 2018, the rate of serious injuries in Amazon’s factories was double the national average.

These injuries also cause dismissals. A case that struck us happened less than 10 miles from Mad Fish’s HQ. Parker Knight, a disabled veteran working at Amazon’s Troutdale warehouse had been given shorter shifts after he sustained injuries at the warehouse, but was written up for missing his quota and ultimately fired. His offense? Hitting only 98.45% of the 100% goal of picking  385 small items or 350 medium items per hour. 

Another concern was packaging waste. With items coming into the office almost every day, we tended to have single use plastic and excessive recycling, which may or may not actually be able to be recycled in Portland’s recycling facilities.

We wanted to share how we’ve reduced our reliance on Amazon, as well as aligned our vendors with our values. Read on for details on how we did it. 

Diversifying our suppliers

When we became a Certified B Corporation in 2018, we audited our vendors and started to put into place initiatives to reduce our Amazon usage, as well as reduce the impact of the times we did use Amazon. Along the way, we learned about how challenging it can be to get certain products elsewhere, and the lift it might take to find alternatives. 

Here are the 6 steps we took to implement a supplier diversity policy.

Set our expectations and guidelines

Start by identifying company guidelines and priorities for vendors & suppliers. It is important to have clarity on what expectations your company will have for suppliers and the products or services they provide. Ask yourself:

  • Will your company require your vendors to meet certain certification standards? 
  • Are you looking to prioritize suppliers that are working toward environmental sustainability or who follow a high-level of employment best practices?  

For us, creating our expectations meant looking at our company values and building out priorities based on the ones we build into everything we do.

Compiled our vendor list

Once we knew what we wanted in a good set of vendors, we pulled all the information we had about our current vendors. We reviewed two years of vendors and created a categorization system to understand how they aligned with areas we wanted to improve.

We noted vendors that were fellow B corporations, those locally-owned, businesses owned by underrepresented groups, and suppliers with a values-based company purpose. We also identified vendors that had public-facing impact or sustainability messaging. We also included how much was spent with each vendor annually to help guide decisions down the road. 

While pulling all this together is a heavy lift, it is a critical step is assessing how you are doing and where you can improve. Grouping this information by internal job functions or teams can also be helpful. Then, you can involve your team and have them help in selecting vendors that better align with your values. 

Assessed our list

Once we had the list, we needed to take the time to audit it. We took a hard look at where our vendor dollars were going and what sort of message we were sending. This is where clear metrics are key. Be honest about the vendors that are not meeting your requirements and those that are. It may help to ask yourself some questions:

  • Could you find alternatives quickly for those that don’t or are those larger business strategy decisions? 
  • Do you do a lot of online purchases that could easily be moved to a local source with less environmental impact? 
  • Are your freelancers a diverse group representing your company’s inclusivity desires? 

Make notes of where you could make different choices.

Researched our options

Once we had identified what we thought we could change, we had folks go out and do the research to get quotes and sourcing options. Making these changes requires insight into contract terms, price changes and their cost impact and the timelines for making the change. This is where having the cost information in your assessment comes in handy. You may be able to reduce the amount of Amazon deliveries to reduce your carbon impact and cardboard waste, but it may come at a cost of additional staff time. Look at all the data to make good, informed choices about where to change. 

Made incremental changes

Having made your choices, and with the buy-in of your company operations team, make the shifts incrementally. This will allow you to roll-changes out and monitor their impact individually and ensure the transitions run smoothly. Below are a few changes we rolled out since we have put our supplier policy in place. 

  • We love our team lunches and snacks. We wanted to make sure we used those opportunities to highlight vendors who aligned with our company values. Our team now uses a list of preferred restaurants that includes local B Corporations, women-owned businesses and purpose-driven eateries like Elephants Deli, Grand Central Bakery and Commissary. We did the same for our office snacks and client gifts. 
  • We know Amazon is convenient. However, we struggled with the amount of waste and company practices that didn’t reflect our values. Our team was able to identify office supply and food that we could get cheaper locally through companies like SmartFood Service, New Seasons and Trader Joes with little additional time to our office management team and a much better values alignment. When we do rely on Amazon for their convenience, we opt for their consolidated shipping so we get one large delivery with less packaging. 

Communicated our policy

Once we had our policy down and our changes rolling out, we shared that information with all the team members with vendor relationship responsibilities. We posted our policy on our website as a public-facing statement for future vendors. This also helps us keep accountable to making continual improvements.

As these changes were rolled out, we also communicated the changes to the staff. Do not neglect this step. Often impact-driven work is not as publicly celebrated or shared the way traditional changes and wins are. Take the time to communicate the why behind your changes and how they will help the individual, teams and company better live their values.  

How have you dealt with supplier diversity and sustainability? We’d love to hear from you.