Tom's of Maine: Crunchy Sourcing

I don't know about you, but I've always been up for trying consumer products with a green/sustainable bent. But all too often, my attempts at green personal hygiene or housecleaning come up short. Tom's of Maine products are a perfect example. When I tried their deodorant, my wife told me to change back to the toxic stuff or risk a divorce on the grounds of body odor. Their toothpaste was the same way. Now, I'm back to rubbing toxins under my arms and in my mouth, but at least I pass her inspection ever day. Still, you can imagine my interest in reading the story behind Tom's of Maine's sustainable sourcing practices in a recent Purchasing article. This is one company that takes green and sustainable sourcing practices and standards to an entirely new level.

According to the story, "While most buyers have the challenge of narrowing down a wide array of materials suppliers, Bill Hetzel, supply chain leader at Tom's, says often he has the opposite challenge of finding at least one or two suppliers that meet Tom's very strict supplier evaluation criteria. Besides requiring certification that suppliers' products are all-natural and include as little processing as possible, Tom's insists that suppliers have positive environmental and product stewardship practices." How does Tom's define "all natural"? Their definition would make any crunchy, back-to-nature type tear-up (when I was younger, I distinctly remember Tom's of Maine being favored by the pot-smoking, crunchy trust-fund types in the private school where I had a scholarship). Still, I digress. In their view, suppliers must provide products that are: "Sourced in nature, simple and understandable ingredients, free of artificial preservatives, colors, sweeteners, flavors, fragrances, and other additives, free of animal ingredients, made of high-quality ingredients and subject to limited processing."

If that's not a laundry list of certifications to manage on an individual supplier and ingredient basis, I'm not sure what is! Given their near freakish obsession with sustainability -- which I applaud, despite what might be construed as sarcasm -- I sincerely hope they're automating the process and cutting down on paper usage through a supplier information management / supply base management system like Aravo or Ketera.

- Jason Busch

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