Whether it’s the result of pressure from customers, board members or just a sense of personal responsibility, sustainability is a topic at the forefront of procurement. Sustainable practices can focus on environmental, economic or social impacts, and these require a complex set of solutions to ensure sustainability goals are met. It can be as complex as ensuring conflict-free mineral sourcing or as simple as choosing reusable cups over paper cups; either way, the right tools and strategies are necessary for sustainability efforts to succeed.
One government sustainable procurement guide underlines the fact that sustainable procurement needs to be economically sustainable first and foremost. Understandably, if an organization cannot afford to support their sustainability efforts, they will not be successful. Sustainability policies must be economically sustainable themselves.
Trying to save money while also being socially and environmentally conscious may sound like quite a hurdle, but keep in mind that many socially responsible initiatives also help the bottom line. For example, one sustainability consideration is to simply avoid unnecessary consumption and manage demand. This has obvious cost advantages as reducing consumption of unneeded goods reduces costs immediately. Choosing products that have lower adverse effects on the environment can reduce both the cost of use and the cost of disposal. Ensuring fair and ethical sourcing practices is not only responsible but it may help avoid costs associated down the road.
Another difficulty for the procurement arm of any organization is not only having sustainable practices within the department and the larger organization, but also ensuring that your vendors have compatible practices. No business wants to spend time envisioning, developing, and enacting new practices only to find that their partner’s and vendor’s policies contrast sharply with their own. Determining which vendors have complementary principals to your organization’s sustainability goals requires doing research and building relationships. Obviously, it’s important to not get swayed by greenwashing or other unsubstantiated claims about sustainability efforts.
Not only is it important to research and establish relationships with vendors who have similar sustainability goals, it’s equally important that employees purchase items from vendors who have been approved by the organization. Even with great relationships with the right suppliers, employees who spend without using the tools and approval flows that have been put in place specifically for your organization can be problematic in terms of keeping sustainability goals in view. When purchasing through an eProcurement system overseen by the procurement department, it’s easier to control the vendors, products, and services that are purchased. For eProcurement to be effective, employees from a wide variety of teams and regions must use it. An eProcurement solution that is difficult to use or requires extensive training for end users can derail sustainability goals.
Ideally, sustainability strategies won’t be viewed as an inconvenient expense, in either man-hours or hard costs, by a procurement department or the organization as a whole. Sustainability in procurement includes considering the costs and benefits, both financial and non-financial, over the entire life of a good or service that is procured. With the right tools, sustainable procurement is within reach.