Can Trade Associations Drive their Industries toward Progress in Sustainability?

by | Sep 1, 2017

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Standards and Training
Priority Issue Identification


By Melissa Grande, Associate Director, Sustainability Initiatives

American Cleaning Institute

When most people hear the phrase “trade association,” the first thing that comes to mind is likely industry trade conferences or perhaps lobbying. But someday soon, they just might think of sustainability.

Corporate sustainability must ultimately be driven from within an organization, but trade associations can are playing a critical role in enhancing the efforts of its member companies and the entire industry they represent.

Take for example the conversations a group of experts had at a recent Supply Chain Transparency Summit. Industry associations were identified as highly valued groups in the drive toward supply chain transparency, because they are well positioned to help normalize new expectations across their industry. Associations can also assist small and mid-sized companies, who might be following behind the larger players in their industry, by gathering industry best practices and creating sustainability roadmaps.

As the world continues to face critical issues related to climate change and sustainability – problems that will require coordination and collaboration to solve – trade associations have an opportunity now to lead rather than follow. Here are some examples of the ways associations are already making an impact:


Standards and Training

The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) Code of Conduct is a set of standards on social, environmental and ethical issues in the electronics industry supply chain. The standards set out in the Code of Conduct reference international norms and standards. In addition to the standard, EICC provides coalition members, their suppliers, and interested participants training via coursework and online learning academy. In addition, EICC has developed tools for members to help them measure and better understand how they are meeting the standard and what gaps remain.


Priority Issue Identification

In 2015, ACI unveiled its first-every industry materiality assessment which maps the critical risks and opportunities facing its value chain. The materiality assessment identifies and characterizes those issues that are most material across ACI’s membership and the value chain at large. The assessment is being utilized in multiple ways, including as a member resource, a stakeholder engagement tool, and as a foundation for future ACI priorities and collaborations.



To address challenges presented by food waste, the food industry came together under the direction of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Association to form the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA). FWRA has two overall goals: increase the amount of food donated and decrease food waste sent to landfills. The project draws on representatives from the manufacturing, retail, restaurant and food service industries, as well as knowledge partners from the anti-hunger community and waste management experts.

These examples are all making an impact. To make even bolder collective impacts, trade associations must remain committed to sustainability progress. It is also important for member companies to be engaged in the process and take advantage of the opportunities that their trade association might be able to provide. By their nature, trade associations are membership driven. Without strong industry voices pushing us to do more, we may be missing out on key piece of the sustainability puzzle.

Melissa Grande is Associate Director, Sustainability Initiatives at American Cleaning Institute (ACI). Since 2012, Melissa has served as a leader developing and supporting ACI’s Sustainability Programs and Sustainability Committee. She manages ACI’s annual Sustainability Metrics Collection Program, Charter for Sustainable Cleaning, and development of ACI’s biennial Sustainability Report.

The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) has had a mission to drive improvements in sustainability for the last 13 years and in its latest sustainability report, the organizations has made a commitment to leading in sustainability. “For us, it is now about more than training, providing resources and celebrating victories. It is about meaningful and bold collective action. With material issues as our foundation, we will strive to play a bigger role in bringing our member partners and stakeholders together and charting a course forward toward measureable progress,” says Grande.


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