The Power of Incentives in Driving Supplier Action

Incentives play a pivotal role in driving supplier action towards sustainability. Discover how both rewards and penalties can catalyze suppliers to adopt eco-friendly practices, aligning with global climate goals

The Power of Incentives in Driving Supplier Action
Photo by Jakob Owens / Unsplash

In the modern business landscape, the supply chain is more than just a series of transactions—it's a complex web of relationships, responsibilities, and opportunities. As companies strive to align their operations with the goals of the Paris Agreement, the role of suppliers becomes increasingly significant. One of the most potent tools at a company's disposal to influence supplier behavior is the strategic use of incentives.

The Dual Nature of Incentives

Incentives can be broadly categorized into two types: the "carrot" and the "stick." The "carrot" represents positive rewards that recognize and celebrate suppliers' achievements in sustainability. In contrast, the "stick" denotes penalties or negative consequences for suppliers lagging in their sustainable commitments.

Positive Incentives: The "Carrot" Approach

  1. Supplier Recognition: Celebrating suppliers that demonstrate leadership in sustainability can motivate others to follow suit. Whether it's through public acknowledgment, awards, or featuring them in corporate reports, recognition can significantly boost a supplier's reputation.
  2. Supplier Scorecards: These provide a snapshot of a supplier's performance in sustainability metrics. By integrating these KPIs into broader performance evaluations, businesses can offer constructive feedback and highlight areas of excellence.
  3. Supplier Benchmarking: Sharing anonymized benchmarking reports allows suppliers to gauge their performance against industry peers. Such insights can drive competitive spirit and encourage suppliers to elevate their sustainability game.
  4. Business Benefits Tied to Performance: Offering suppliers tangible business advantages, such as longer contract terms or shorter payment cycles, can be a compelling incentive for them to prioritize sustainability.

Negative Incentives: The "Stick" Approach

  1. Contractual Requirements: Incorporating sustainability clauses in supplier contracts or Codes of Conduct ensures that suppliers are contractually bound to meet certain sustainability standards.
  2. Business Penalties: These can range from less favorable business terms to, in extreme cases, contract termination. Such measures signal the company's unwavering commitment to sustainability.
  3. Escalation through Leadership: Engaging higher-ups in discussions about a supplier's lack of progress can emphasize the importance of sustainability in the business relationship.

Balancing the Carrot and the Stick

While both positive and negative incentives have their place, it's essential to strike a balance. Over-reliance on penalties can strain supplier relationships, while excessive rewards might lead to complacency. The Supplier Engagement Guidance from the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) suggests a progressive layering of incentives as the program matures, ensuring that the impact of these measures is continually enhanced.

The Transformative Power of Incentives

Incentives, when used judiciously, can catalyze a ripple effect throughout the supply chain. As suppliers adopt sustainable practices, they not only reduce their emissions but also influence their suppliers, creating a cascading impact. The SBTi's report on supplier engagement underscores the importance of clear and consistent communication of these incentives to suppliers, ensuring they understand the implications of meeting—or not meeting—sustainability expectations.


The journey towards a sustainable future is a collaborative effort. While setting targets and monitoring progress is crucial, the real transformative power lies in motivating action. Incentives, both positive and negative, serve as potent tools in this endeavor. By understanding and harnessing their potential, businesses can drive meaningful change, not just within their operations but across their entire supply chain.

Science-Based Targets and Suppliers: Aligning Business with the Paris Agreement
Science-Based Targets (SBTs) are not just corporate commitments; they’re a collaborative effort involving every link in the business chain, especially suppliers. Dive into the world of SBTs and discover how they’re reshaping the business landscape in alignment with global climate goals.