Turn the supply chain green

14 December 2006
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14 December 2006

The growing demand for environmentally friendly goods and services is an opportunity for suppliers to promote greener purchasing, says Antony Barton

Green procurement is in the ascendancy. There is heightened awareness of sustainable procurement across the profession. And the number of recycled goods suppliers is on the up. According to environmental agency London Remade numbers on its books rose from 125 to 244 in the last year.

Big names in the private sector are also investing huge sums in this area. Virgin Group has committed

$3 billion over the next decade to renewable energy initiatives and HSBC has spent the past two years trying to be the world's first bank to become carbon neutral.

There is clearly massive buying power to drive sustainable products. And this demand for "green" goods and services presents a prime opportunity for suppliers, keen to pass on innovation to customers.

Daniel Silverstone, chief executive of London Remade, agrees. Speaking as the head of the organisation that delivered mayor Ken Livingstone's Green Procurement Code and the Purchase Report on its implementation, he says: "Electronic goods manufacturer Brother found its association with us and the Green Procurement Code has generated more demand for its goods than any other relationship in the UK."

A Brother spokesman agrees, adding that London Remade's role as adviser on sustainability helped to introduce the company to like-minded organisations that became partners, suppliers or customers. Not all purchasers settle for simply buying green products. Suppliers must help the many companies that know they need to increase their sustainability but don't know how to get started.

Jane Henderson, quality and environmental manager for office goods provider Banner Business Supplies, says promoting green supplies is an obligation: "We look at customers and find the best supplies that will help them to meet current and future needs while meeting their environmental targets."

Nigel Crunden, marketing manager for business products supplier Office Depot, accepts this wider role but insists buyers will only change if the supplier educates them. He says Office Depot, shortlisted in the Green Procurement Awards, has a number of public sector clients who, at the point of order, rely on suppliers suggesting alternative products to prevent purchasers from ordering supplies that do not meet the government's sustainable criteria. He says: "You can set out legislation but if the message hasn't filtered through it's not going to have an impact on the customer."

Henderson agrees: "We have seen huge growth in the green market, and that's partly down to the good work of the media, but suppliers need to tell buyers that green goods have improved, their prices have come down and they are an easy way for companies to become sustainable."

She adds that these days customers ask the supplier about recycled goods, whereas only a few years ago the supplier had to promote them.

"There's certainly a pressure on suppliers to keep up," says Crunden. "I'd like to think we're encouraging customers to move along the environmental route, even if that means we need to push our own suppliers into giving us that choice."

SMdec2006

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