Fiona Wheatley is now Olam’s AtSource Sustainability Manager, but previously held supply chain sustainability roles at Sainsbury’s, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.

She’s experienced first-hand the demands of such businesses and understands how AtSource can respond to them. “I spent 25 years in grocery retail, with the last 15 focused on improving the sustainability performance of commodity supply chains – driving change at an individual company and a pre-competitive level, bringing businesses together and finding solutions,” says Fiona.

Voluntary sustainability schemes, more commonly known as certification, were a key part of this approach. “So for example when I was at Sainsbury’s we were the first company to buy RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil, and the first to promote it on products, this allowed the business to say ‘this is what makes us different.”

But for all its successes, Fiona could see innovation was needed. “Certification has delivered very well in many areas, and has evolved and improved, however something more was needed to help shift the dial.”

With all her years of experience from the customer perspective, Fiona is clear about what that ‘something’ needs to do. It must build on the experience of certification, and hold onto its bold ambition, but there was a need to simplify and a belief technology could play a stronger role.

There was a gap needing filled. A chance to give manufacturing, retail and food service customers a granular and meaningful picture of the challenges facing farmers, particularly smallholders, and to provide baseline data from which to measure progress. To be lighter on admin and heavier on action, spend less time on documentation and more time on delivery.

Quick but smart decision-making and learning on-the-go are part of Olam’s DNA which led to a shorter development time than conventional schemes. But more importantly these traits influenced the shape of the model. AtSource is designed to be dynamic and adaptive, attributes essential to accelerate the pace of change as we race to meet sustainable development goals and deal with a growing climate crisis.

“The AtSource tiered model recognises the need to give companies choice. Within AtSource they can select from Entry, AtSource+ or AtSource∞ depending on their capacity and ambition, they can even choose different tiers for different products.

“For example, for companies new to this area, AtSource Entry provides third party risk profiles on key sustainability topics, alongside country level climate and water footprints, helping them understand where to focus their efforts to improve sustainability performance. It also requires the business units to engage with suppliers and farmers to make sure they’re aware of the Olam Supplier Code which describes their responsibilities to the environment, workers and communities. It might not sound a big step, but it’s a meaningful one when you’re talking about many, many farmers across multiple countries and continents.

“Moving through the tiers, AtSource+ visually maps the location of farmer groups and draws on primary data to give customers meaningful insight on the environmental footprint and social conditions from farm through logistics and processing, which can be incredibly difficult for them to otherwise obtain. If we look at sustainability reporting requirements, being able to understand your Scope 3 indirect supply chain emissions is hugely valuable. This is exactly what’s needed for companies who know what difference they want to make but want to get there faster and with confidence their actions are having a positive impact.

“AtSource Entry asks Olam business units to engage directly with suppliers to build their capacity on sustainability topics, whereas AtSource+ builds on that by offering tailored improvement programmes to deliver impact on the ground.

“At the top tier AtSource∞ is the flagship offer with a goal of landscape level transformation at scale, appealing to companies with a mature understanding of pathways to change and with leadership aspirations."

Another advantage of AtSource is it offers simplicity and efficiency for customers buying several products from Olam, for example cocoa and hazelnuts. Rather than a multitude of documents and systems, everything is available via the AtSource digital dashboard with reporting tailored to the context of the different supply chains.

This demand for a more stream-lined approach is one Fiona saw first-hand at one of the UK’s most famous retailers: “When I was at Marks and Spencer, we had an ethos that to have impact at scale required working with others. So, for example, I set up retailer working groups so there would be greater harmonisation of approach, otherwise you can end up with one supplier receiving say a dozen different policies or questionnaires from a dozen different customers. AtSource has the potential to take this harmonisation further and it’s something we’re exploring.”

Those years spent focused on sustainable sourcing at different major retailers meant Fiona had great insight into what they needed, and indeed helped bring about significant changes in the way they operated, but it was rather viewing the issue from one end of the proverbial telescope.

As she puts it, “I joined AtSource to better understand supply chain sustainability challenges from the bottom up, to build on what I’d learned from the top down and explore how innovative solutions like AtSource can expand the scale of sustainable production.

“For example, we looked at conventional approaches to managing supply chain sustainability and could see there were opportunity gaps, for example to address climate change. Agriculture can have a high climate impact and many of our customers have goals to reduce emissions. But a lot of interventions are generic because customers can’t see what’s happening in their specific supply chains. We’ve seen real excitement around the real-life data provided on AtSource and how that enables much more tailored action. Business needs timely and reliable data, the days of relying on hearsay and anecdotes to inform decision making are past. Act, review, adapt is a sustainability mantra, AtSource accelerates this learning cycle, which we can only benefit from.”

So, nearly 2 years after its launch, does Fiona think retailers, like her former employers, feel AtSource, is just what they’ve been looking for?

“I actually hope the insight and creativity that Olam AtSource brings exceeds retailers' expectations of what can be delivered through a digital platform.”

And no-one probably knows those expectations better than Fiona.