Sustainable procurement is 'low priority' for purchasers

24 August 2009

25 August 2009 | Allie Anderson

Purchasers are not getting "significant" savings from sustainable procurement, the latest SM100 poll reveals.

The survey of 100 purchasers around the world found 64 per cent had not secured substantial financial benefit from sustainability. A number reported that the issue is not a high priority in the current economic climate.

Adam Smith, purchasing manager at Morgan Advanced Ceramics, said: "There may be opportunities to benefit from implementing facets of CSR, but at the present time this is quite low on our agenda."

Tony Morris, principal business consultant at financial services company CODA, said: "Procurement people talk about it and get it on the agenda, but when it comes to the decision it is never a factor."

And Edward Savage, from PA Consulting, said sustainable procurement "hasn't been implemented by many organisations yet".

Many respondents pointed out savings should not be the sole factor in assessing the merits of sustainable procurement. One buyer, who wished to remain anonymous, said while environmental efforts had not achieved significant cost reductions, it had enhanced the company's reputation in the marketplace.

Philip Dews, contract manager at facilities management firm Interserve, argued: "Sustainable procurement is not a magic way to save money. It is about procuring goods in the right way, looking at the key aspects - social, economic and environmental. It is not the old-fashioned way of buying things as cheaply as possible, but a more rounded approach which gives true value."

Of the 36 per cent who had achieved significant savings, several cited energy and water costs as the chief areas where outlay had been reduced.

Martin Toomey, commercial manager at the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said the key is to measure the impact of your procurement, which means a baseline is needed before you start. "You need to know what you want to get from the procurement so you can clearly measure change."

Some reported that while setting up these projects can be lengthy, the long-term benefits make it worthwhile. Susan Godfrey, senior buyer at Balfour Beatty WorkPlace, said: "Most of the changes have relatively low cost impacts or quickly pay for themselves."

Meanwhile, a Europe-wide study published last week found that 80 per cent of buyers initiated sustainable procurement programmes in 2008, while 90 per cent see them as "critical" to the survival of their business.

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