What Does Sustainably Sourced Mean? (The Surprising Real Answer)

What does sustainably sourced mean a woman sitting on a globe wonders while looking at a recycle, dollar, Carbon emissions, plant, and no chemical symbol.

What does sustainably sourced mean? This term is popular one in advertising, branding, and packaging. Yet you may not know the real answer.

Technically, sustainably sourced is a comprehensive term used to describe responsible actions for society, ethics, and the environment. It refers to a set of values about how to contribute to the long-term health and well-being of the planet.

But the surprising real answer is often missing from the information, because when discussing what does sustainably sourced mean, the carbon footprint of production is often ignored.

To have a real sustainably sourced product, whether that’s energy, food or something else, the carbon emissions generated in every step of the process must be considered and erased.

This is an increasingly important concept for business and personal decision-making. Promoting a healthy environment requires a complete look at sustainable sourcing.

What Is the Definition of Sustainable Sourcing?

According to the Ecovadis1 website glossary, sustainable sourcing is a constellation of environmental, ethical, and social considerations that companies use to select suppliers.

Harvested vegetables with sustainable supply.

(Image: Markusspiske11)

All industries can practice sustainable sourcing by building strong relationships with vetted suppliers. With sustainability as a top priority, companies can demonstrate their reliance on ethical actions that promote environmental health and contribute to social well-being.

When a company embraces sustainability, it goes far beyond legal compliance.

The holistic method makes a positive impact on growing the business, outsourcing to suppliers, managing customer relationships, and taking care of the planet…because it helps ensure that the world resources are protected for future generations.

What Is Meant by Sustainably Sourced?

Sustainable sourcing has several dimensions that are part of the environment, the economic impact of the action, and social diversity. If you think about it, these three areas can help you and your organization make business decisions that match the priorities and mindset of your customers.

According to the SIG website,2 consumers are increasingly aware of environmental impact and make buying decisions accordingly.

Some of the eye-popping statistics about consumer preferences confirm that consumers are voting with their wallets:

  • 67% of consumers will pay more to buy from a socially responsible company
  • 52% of consumers check product packing for sustainability
  • 52% of consumers in the last six months made a buying decision based on social responsibility

Sustainably sourced is a term with far-reaching applications for business models, supplier relationships, customer branding, and organizational structure.

Containers of grains and beans that are see-through with a person using the black handle to fill a small jar with reddish colored beans.

(Image: Polina Tankilevitch12)

Are you feeling confused about what does sustainably sourced mean?

Common Misconceptions About Sustainable Sourcing

This term often gets mixed up with other terms. The biggest misconception is with the phrase, ethical sourcing. Ethical sourcing refers to a process where you make sure that products are obtained with responsible and sustainable priorities.

Ethical sourcing is a part of the puzzle of sustainable sourcing—but it means something distinctly different.

With true sustainability, tree planting carbon offset programs or other endeavors can be utilized to erase the emissions generated from obtaining materials and creating and selling a product.

What Does Ethically Sourced Mean?

Ethically sourced3 is an indicator that the company is making an effort to support human rights, provide decent working conditions, conduct business ethically, and invest in health and safety.

An example of ethically sourced materials would be obtaining wool or cotton from sustainable, independent farms that don’t rely on mass production.

Why Is Responsible Sourcing Important? Expanding the Impact

Responsible sourcing is a broad term that encompasses both ethically sourced materials and goods, and sustainable sourcing practices.

For example, choosing to purchase good from a supplier who operates within ethical goals, rather than sourcing it from another supplier that uses dirty production practices and child labor.

Supplier diversity is another term that is often included in the mix. This refers to working with diverse suppliers such as a veteran-owned business or a women-owned manufacturer. It is an important piece of social responsibility, but not the same as sustainable sourcing.

Sustainable cost savings is a term used in discussions about sustainable sourcing. This term refers to the amount of money that you and your company save, year after year. It is an important and motivating principle for calculating financial benefits, but again—not precisely the meaning of sustainable sourcing.

Reducing the Carbon Footprint: The Big Missing Piece of Sustainable Sourcing

Reducing the carbon footprint of any product is a key missing ingredient in many sustainable sourcing models.

Even when purchasing goods and materials (or services) that are sustainable, emissions are still generated. In order to be completely sustainable, a product needs to have a net zero emissions factor. this can only be accomplished by using carbon offset companies that create ways to actually remove emissions, rather than simply store them.

Sustainable sourcing is frequently only focusing on strategies and tactics. These are extremely important but may still not solve the biggest question: how to stop climate change?

A person holding up a sign that reads "Make Love Not CO2" at a rally.

(Image: Markus Spiske13)

As you examine sustainable sourcing, keep this larger goal of reducing your carbon footprint in mind. Investigate the carbon footprint of your activities, household, and workplace. Consider how to reduce your carbon footprint.

Read More: Carbon Footprint Calculation Explained in 7 Simple Steps (Try This Now)

What Are the Benefits of Sustainable Sourcing?

According to the SIG website2 in addition to helping the environment, economy, and social structure, sustainable sourcing has distinctive benefits for business.

The top three benefits are: increasing revenue, reducing costs, and managing risks.

Increasing Revenue

Sustainable sourcing offers a competitive advantage. It helps you differentiate your business, attract new customers, increase brand loyalty, and boost the appeal of your brand.

Reducing Costs

Sourcing with vetted vendors reduces administrative costs and develops strong business partnerships. It inspires new models of ownership for reducing costs even further.

Managing Risks

With loyal customers and a certified process for sustainable sourcing, you protect your brand. Brand management is a way to manage risks such as fines, litigation, and supply chain disruptions.

Why Care About Sustainable Sourcing?

Shifting to sustainable sourcing is a mindset. If you own a business, you are always seeking to understand your customers’ priorities.

As customers are choosing to make purchases based on sustainability, ethics, and social responsibility, this motivates businesses and business owners to care deeply.

Shifting to a sustainable sourcing mindset is a smart move for the earth and profitability. Sustainable sourcing inspires doing good—and boosting profits.

Why care? More customers. Brand advantage. Future earnings. And always keep asking, What does sustainably sourced mean?

What Does Sustainable Sourcing Mean for Food?

Since you eat food regularly, it makes sense to examine your food choices. Thinking about sustainable sourcing for food inspires you to make smart choices.

The choices you make influence the health of yourself and your family. By being proactive, you can have a positive impact on society, the environment, and the economy.

What Does Sustainably Sourced Mean When It Comes to Food?

According to the Unilever Food Solutions4 website, sustainable sourcing means considering how ingredients are produced. When it comes to agricultural products, consider the farming activities and evaluate whether these are done with long-term awareness.

Unilever is active in defining policy about sustainability. Selecting foods farmed with a conscious intention to create a beneficial impact helps businesses, farmers, and consumers make a difference.

The Hellmann’s5 website describes sustainably sourced in terms of growing food that sustains the soil. This includes using a minimum of natural resources such as water and fertilizer. The guidelines require suppliers to follow sustainable sourcing to protect biodiversity and support the livelihood of farmers.

An individual is engaging in the act of planting to promote sustainability sourcing.

(Image: Noah Buscher14)

While choosing foods such as mayonnaise and dressing may seem like a small step, it is a big step in the right direction. You can vote with your wallet and buy from food producers who are conscious of environmental and social impact.

What Is Important About Sustainable Sourced Seafood?

Buying sustainably sourced is a practical way to help in preventing overfishing, rebuild supplies of fish, and protect fish populations.6

According to the Green Matters7 website, choosing to eat, buy, and support sustainably sourced seafood is an important step in helping the environment.

The Pacific Rich Resources8 website agrees that sustainable seafood indicates you are buying fish from a fishery that is fishing humanely, and at a rate that sustains fish populations.

What Is Important for Sustainable Sourcing of Raw Materials?

According to The Committee On Sustainability Assessment (COSA),9 sourcing raw materials with sustainable practices helps to protect the environment. This safeguards water sources, ensures proper waste management, and reduces the use of non-renewable energy.

While seeking to protect the environment, it’s important to keep looking to gain a full understanding of the best questions and the real answers.

Related Reading: 18 Meat Carbon Footprint Facts: The Emissions of Every Meat Type

What Does Sustainably Sourced Products Mean?

Sustainably sourced products10 means that companies are seeking to not only not harm the environment but to do good. This can lead to improving the lives of people involved in farming, production, and manufacturing.

Some companies popularize the sourcing of products so that the public has an awareness of where the food was grown, the conditions it was grown in, and the living conditions of the growers. When you see certifications of organic, small-batch, and farmer-owned cooperatives, it indicates that each product complies with precise guidelines.

A group of workers wearing hats are planting rice in a rice paddy field.

(Image: Vietnguyenbui15)

Choosing to buy sustainably sourced products is a hands-on way to improve the quality of life for yourself, farmers, and third-world workers. Many global corporations rely on people working in other countries. Your intelligent purchase helps people live a healthier and better quality of life.

What About Sustainable Sourcing in Supply Chain Management?

Sustainable sourcing is a way of knowing the origins of products and suppliers. This is also known as traceability and confirms that everyone from origin to consumer is engaged in a common purpose.

What Is the Best Practice for Creating a Sustainable Sourcing Policy?

If you and your organization are committed to achieving sustainable sourcing, developing policies is the start of long-term success.

What Is the Best Way to Achieve Sustainable Sourcing?

According to Ecovadis,1 the best way to achieve sustainable sourcing is by following specific best practices:

  • Develop sustainability policies
  • Set clear expectations with your organization and vendors
  • Integrate sustainability into buying decisions
  • Educate and support suppliers to sustain standards
  • Monitor performance

If you have a business, adopt these 5 best practices for sustainable sourcing. As you work with your organization and suppliers, you can strive to produce products that align with sustainable values.

The complex problem of how to stop climate change has one simple goal: reduce the carbon footprint.

When you think about the actions you take to consume the planet’s resources, one thing is clear: your choices make a difference.

Choosing sustainably sourced products is an important piece of the puzzle. The surprising real answer is that you can make better choices that positively impact the climate. Even in one week, you can reduce your carbon footprint.

If you’re deeply passionate about sustainability and helping the planet, buy sustainably sourced products. Use your passion to make choices to reduce your carbon footprint. Share your understanding with people in your family, workplace, and community.

As you learn more, you’ll make wiser choices and make a positive impact on the climate, and continue asking, “What does sustainably sourced mean?”

Frequently Asked Questions About What Does Sustainably Sourced Mean

What Is Really Meant by Sustainably Sourced?

Sustainably sourced means you are seeking to do more good and cause less harm. It means you are focused on designing and measuring the impact of actions on the environment, economics, and people.

What Is the True Difference Between Sustainably Sourced and Responsibly Sourced?

Sustainably sourced refers to going beyond legal compliance. It covers policies to improve the conditions of producers and use smart climate practices. Sustainably sourced is a broader term that includes responsibly sourced. Responsibly sourced indicates legal compliance with laws and global best practices.

Does Sustainably Sourced Only Mean Farm Raised?

Sustainably sourced can refer to farm-raised animals, animal products, fruits, and vegetables. It can also refer to humane fishing practices and the use of raw materials.

What Are Sustainably Sourced Foods?

Sustainably sourced foods are consumables created with a common purpose of doing good. This can include policies for social well-being, economic development, and environmental impact.

What Does Sustainably Sourced Fish Mean?

Sustainably sourced fish means that fish is caught with humane methods. Fisheries using sustainably sourced methods are making an effort to fish at a rate that sustains fish populations.

What Are Some Sustainable Sourcing Examples?

Sustainable sourcing programs are a key part of Unilever’s4 company-led standards. Hellmann’s5 applies sustainable sourcing policies for evaluating the ingredients in their products.

What Are the Actual Benefits of Sustainable Sourcing?

In addition to environmental benefits, sustainable sourcing does good for society, the long-term environment, and the economy.

Companies using sustainable sourcing can benefit the environment, positively impact the economy, and improve living conditions for people in the supply chain.

What Is the Difference Between Sustainably Sourced and Responsibly Sourced?

Sustainably sourced and responsibly sourced are two different terms that relate to one another, but mean different things. Something that is sustainable can be renewed, such as a resource, while something that is responsibly sourced deals with the supply chain and typically refers to choosing vendors and suppliers that share eco-conscious values.

Does Sustainably Sourced Mean Farm Raised?

Sustainably sourced doesn’t necessarily mean farm raised because the term farm raised can apply to production and operations that aren’t sustainable.


1EcoVadis. (2022). Sustainable Sourcing. Ecovadis. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from <https://ecovadis.com/glossary/sustainable-sourcing/>

2Schleicher, H. (2022). Sustainable Sourcing 101. SIG. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from <https://sig.org/blog/sustainable-sourcing>

3Sedex. (2022, February 25). What does ethically sourced mean? Sedex. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from <https://www.sedex.com/what-does-ethically-sourced-mean/>

4Unilever Food Solutions. (2022). What is Sustainable Sourcing and Why Care About it? Unilever Food Solutions. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from <https://www.unileverfoodsolutions.com.sg/en/chef-inspiration/sustainability/what-is-sustainable-sourcing-and-why-care-about-it.html>

5Hellman’s – Uniliver. (2022). Sustainably Sourced Ingredients. Hellman’s. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from <https://www.hellmanns.com/uk/hellmanns-sustainably-sourced-ingredients.html>

6The Healthy Fish Team. (2019). Why Should I Buy Sustainably Sourced Fish? The Healthy Fish. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from <https://thehealthyfish.com/why-should-i-buy-sustainably-sourced-fish/>

7Hirsh, S. (2020, July 2). What Does Sustainably-Sourced Seafood Actually Mean? Green Matters. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from <https://www.greenmatters.com/p/sustainably-sourced-seafood>

8CCH. (2020, July 28). What Does ‘Sustainably-Sourced Seafood Actually Mean?’ Pacific Rich Resources. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from <https://www.pacificrichresources.com/what-does-sustainably-sourced-seafood-actually-mean/>

9Committee on Sustainability Assessment. (2021, May 5). Responsible Sourcing and Sustainable Sourcing: Key Differences. COSA. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from <https://thecosa.org/responsible-sourcing-and-sustainable-sourcing/>

10Wikipedia. (2022, July 22). Sustainable sourcing. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_sourcing>

11Markusspiske. Pixabay. Retrieved from, <https://pixabay.com/photos/vegetables-harvest-cultivation-1679947/>

12Polina Tankilevitch. Pexels. Retrieved from, <https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-shopping-in-store-3735179/>

13Markus Spiske. Unsplash. Retrieved from, <https://unsplash.com/photos/MVB0dOaWRr4>

14Noah Buscher. Unsplash. Retrieved from, <https://unsplash.com/photos/x8ZStukS2PM>

15Vietnguyenbui. Pixabay. Retrieved from, <https://pixabay.com/photos/field-farmer-rural-water-vietnam-5430070/>