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Singapore is one of the most prosperous nations in the world. A small, densely populated island nation with no natural resources of its own, it has a unique understanding of the need to adopt a sustainable approach to growth and development.

In recent years, Singapore’s government has focused on embedding sustainability principles across public and private sector organizations, focusing on four key areas: building a sustainable economy, creating a sustainable living environment, ensuring sustainable development for its people and contributing to international collaboration.

Despite this longstanding commitment to sustainable development, companies in Singapore do not always publish formal policies on their management commitments, nor do they describe their processes for implementing the policies that they have and evaluating corporate performance against them. Nevertheless, the concepts of saving energy, protecting natural resources, reducing waste and ensuring worker health and safety are widely spread throughout these businesses.

The launch of the SGS supplier self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ), which is used to assess suppliers on their management of social and environmental issues, provided an opportunity for SGS Singapore’s procurement manager, Alvin Tan, to engage key suppliers on the topic of corporate sustainability.

SGS Singapore sent the SAQ to suppliers, focusing, initially, on the top 10% of suppliers by annual spend. Few responses were received in the first weeks, so Alvin reached out to the suppliers, through phone calls and meetings, to help them understand the purpose of the SAQ and its importance to their businesses.

Suppliers then began reviewing the SAQ. Alvin made himself available to answer any of their questions about completing the questionnaire.

Commenting on the process, he said, “I managed to reassure suppliers that SGS was not looking for perfection and that it is more important to answer honestly so that we can accurately determine what improvements are needed. I was also able to explain the business benefits of completing the SAQ to show alignment not only with SGS sustainability standards but also the government’s sustainability principles. In return, I gained a deeper understanding of the local context for managing social and environmental issues, and of some of the barriers to progress.”

After three months of active dialogue, SGS Singapore achieved a 100% response rate, with Alvin ensuring that each response was personally acknowledged.

SGS Singapore is keen to share the following critical success factors with other SGS affiliates:

  1. Ensure that the SAQ is addressed to the correct individual within the organization
  2. Arrange to speak to the supplier, directly or by phone, to explain the rationale behind the SAQ and outline the benefits to the supplier
  3. Use this dialogue to better understand the local context for managing social and environmental issues
  4. Respond to suppliers’ questions in a timely manner
  5. Acknowledge each response once it has been received
  6. Engage with suppliers to discuss opportunities for continuous improvement

In 2020, SGS Singapore plans to continue performing supplier assessments, taking into consideration the lesson learned from 2019 – that the SAQ is much more than a questionnaire completion exercise; it forms a basis of knowledge sharing and collaboration with suppliers, helping to ensure that they are aligned with and benefit from SGS’s sustainability commitments.