Improving Sustainability in the Railway Supply Chain

March 4, 2015
  • Roberta Pinamonti portrait

    Roberta Pinamonti

    Associate Director, BSR

Imagine a meeting between the buyer and seller of a product, and what they would talk about. Generally, the story would involve a discussion on price and volumes, which would lead to negotiations. And negotiations usually imply a misalignment of intents and interests between the buyer and seller.

But instead, we’d like to tell a story of alignment and collaboration between the two—in this case, rail operators (buyers) and rail manufacturers (sellers), who are joining together to create a new sustainable procurement initiative. With BSR, six companies are launching Railsponsible, a collaborative initiative focused on continuously improving the sustainability practices of railway suppliers.

For the past nine months, BSR has facilitated discussions among senior procurement officers from Alstom Transport, Bombardier Transportation, Deutsche Bahn, Knorr Bremse, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, and SNCF.

To announce the public launch, which took place today at an event in Utrecht, the Netherlands, we spoke to Sylvie Margueret, sustainable sourcing director at Alstom Transport, and Michael Boback, head of internationalization at Deutsche Bahn, about their experiences with Railsponsible.

What sustainability challenges have you faced in the railway supply chain, and how will Railsponsible address them? 

Margueret: Because railway companies rely on vast supply chains, there is a high potential for environmental and social impacts. To mitigate risk and ensure responsible practices along the supply chain, we saw the need for an industrywide approach to assess our suppliers’ sustainability performance.

By sharing best practices and processes and driving a common understanding of sustainability across the industry, we can be more efficient and act more quickly on sustainability challenges. And we are implementing a shared assessment tool using EcoVadis, a platform that helps companies monitor the sustainability performance of their suppliers.

Why did you found Railsponsible?

Boback: Initially, we were very interested in how other companies manage sustainability in their supply chains because we were just starting to integrate sustainability into our own supplier-management approach. And when we started to talk to our peers, it became apparent that sustainability is very relevant for all industry players—from operators to system integrators to suppliers.

We had two goals in adopting this shared approach: First, we wanted to avoid having different requirements for supplier assessments, which would have burdened suppliers with higher costs. Second, we wanted to increase transparency, which will help us understand suppliers’ processes to assess risk, as well as their sustainability performance. This, in turn, will help our suppliers understand how we will use the information they provide.

How do you think this initiative fits within the global sustainable procurement movement?

Margueret: We were motivated by similar collaborative initiatives, such as the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative [which BSR cofounded] or the Global e-Sustainability Initiative. These types of initiatives gather together a large number of companies to collaborate on the same sustainability goals, and we hope to replicate their success. As Railsponsible develops, we welcome other companies within the railway industry to apply to join us. By covering a greater pool of suppliers, we aim to keep raising expectations and awareness on sustainability issues.

Boback: Sustainability is a priority not only for industries affected by poor working conditions in faraway countries—every company needs to realize that sustainability starts at its doorstep. By taking responsibility for monitoring and engaging suppliers in a collaborative way, companies can improve efficiencies by assessing risks in their supply chains. Simply put, investing in sustainable procurement is key for every company. 

For more information about Railsponsible and to inquire about participation, please email

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