How Can We Know We’re Buying Sustainable Products?

Supply Chain Transparency: Research Tidbit #5.

Deepti Kannapan
5 min readMar 2, 2022


Photo by Vladimir Proskurovskiy on Unsplash

Unlike food, most other products (like office chairs, clothes, electronics, and household goods) don’t come with ingredient lists.

And ingredients aren’t the only factor in whether a product is sustainable, since ingredients are just the materials that actually made it into the product.

The ingredient list doesn’t account for the processes by which materials were shipped, the energy used in manufacturing, or the byproducts and wastes produced as a consequence. All of these other factors are part of the ‘supply chain’.

Not being able to make informed decisions about products is a serious obstacle, if you want to influence the economy toward ethical practices.

While looking for a word to describe my frustration, I came across the term ‘supply chain transparency’ and this article from Harvard Business Review that gave me a good summary of the concept. I added a deeper look at it to the research project I’m doing this quarter .

What I knew going in

I was familiar with the concept of supply chains because they’ve been a focus of my interest for a while.

From my earlier skim of the article, I knew that it mostly advice on how and why to become more transparent, from a management perspective.

What I wanted to know

  • How do we urge more companies to be transparent?
  • How can we apply supply chain transparency at our jobs?
  • Are there any policy levers we can pull to require transparency?
  • Is any current organization or movement already working to pull those policy levers?

I didn’t find all the answers I was looking for, but I feel like I built a good foundation for finding them through further research.

What I read

  1. The HBR article in question, titled What Supply Chain Transparency Really Means. The article was written in 2019, so I was curious about a more recent update.



Deepti Kannapan

Painter, occasional cartoonist, aerospace engineer. Writes about sustainable technology, creativity, and journaling.