Sustainable Procurement is arguably one of the major requirements currently facing organisations. As well as pressures from environmental legislation driven by the EU 20/20/20 Directive (the EU has committed to reduce emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020), commercial operations can improve market position through clear and visible Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies. There can be few more visible examples of an organisation's commitment to its role in society than buying in a way that protects the environment.
Sustainable Procurement fundamentally requires a company to give due consideration to the environmental impact of the products and services that it buys. Environmental factors are included in the purchase decision alongside the traditional elements of cost, quality, timing and risk. It requires a company to take responsibility for the environmental footprint of its activities and for the supply chain used to support these activities.
There are three main reasons for a company to consider environmental and social factors in its purchases:
In addition, the resulting improved processes, alternative products and reduced consumption all offer the chance to get better value for money and/or make bottom line savings while reducing the company's environmental footprint.
Successful adoption of Sustainable Procurement requires that it becomes a key element of a company's overall sustainability strategy and a strategic goal in itself.
Many companies have developed a sustainable procurement strategy; fewer have successfully implemented it. As with all strategies, the key element of success is the ability to translate vision and objectives into real-life ongoing ways of working.
An essential lesson when implementing Sustainable Procurement is that the practices adopted to sustain our environment must themselves be sustainable. This is not a 'flavour of the month' where the purchasing team include environmental considerations in the supplier selection processes while the flavour is still in fashion. We are talking about a long-term, fundamental change to the way an organisation carries out a key element of its business.
Successful implementation requires a change project to modify existing purchasing processes and procedures to include sustainability. A key requirement of the change process is influencing key stakeholders to include environmental considerations in their business decisions. The exercise should look to achieve some quick wins where the benefits of Sustainable Procurement in action are clearly demonstrated and all parties can be encouraged by their wide communication.
A Sustainable Procurement project is not in principle different from other projects that an organisation runs to bring about change. However, some long-known key factors which will help improve the chances of success are:
Sponsorship: Active sponsorship is key to the success of any change programme and applies to Sustainable Procurement as much as to any other. There are no hard and fast rules about where a sponsor should sit in the organisation - what is important is that he or she is enthusiastic about the introduction of Sustainable Procurement and has the right level of influence in the organisation. One thing to consider when selecting a sponsor is that there are two main aspects to the project:
Team: The project team should have representation from a number of areas in addition to the Purchasing Department. These include people from areas of the business responsible for purchasing goods or services that are likely to contribute a 'quick win' during the project (such as travel), those bearing responsibility for environmental issues, specialists from areas that have a significant environmental impact (utilities or engineering for example) and the people who will carry out training on the topic.
Project management: A project requiring input from people in a wide range of areas within the organisation, many of whom will be working outside their own core discipline, requires formal project management, including:
Change management: The Sustainable Procurement project is about changing existing purchasing processes and all the usual aspects of a business change project need to be considered: stakeholder management, communications, overcoming resistance, documenting and training on the new processes. As with all business change, the mechanics of new processes and procedures are easier to change than culture. Some people may need to be challenged, persuaded and coached towards new ways of working.
A positive start: An important early activity in the project is to classify spend categories by their level of environmental impact and the ease with which this can be reduced by purchasing activity. Based on this classification the categories that are likely to provide quick sustainability wins can be identified and prioritised. It is probably best to limit the number of categories that are initially tackled, in order to allow learning from the early stages to be applied in later ones. Another good early action is to identify current projects with potential environmental opportunity (e.g. a new building) and to engage in these projects with the aim of sharing best practice and influencing project direction to include environmental impact. In all these early stages it is suggested that opportunities that are good business as well as good for the environment are preferable; gaining company-wide commitment for these is likely to be easier.
Training: Existing procurement training practices and documentation need to be updated to incorporate sustainability as part of the project. The training should also introduce environmental and CSR principles to ensure that the goals of the exercise are understood and shared by all involved.
Another key factor in the success of Sustainable Procurement is the quality of the purchasing processes within the organisation. Adding sustainability to good purchasing is easier than adopting this approach when the existing processes are poor.
An organisation that already has effective purchasing management practices can be identified thus:
Sustainability requires the purchasing organisation to be aware of both lifecycle costs and the lifecycle environmental impact associated with their purchase decision - and to add these factors into their selection of and relationship with suppliers.
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