Recession can be used to drive sustainability

17 March 2010

17 March 2010 | Paul Snell

Buyers can use the recession to progress sustainable procurement ideas, concluded panellists at a roundtable on green buying.

“If you are sending a message to your people about how you affect change within your business travel behaviours, the recession and taking cost out of your business is a great facilitator for that, as well as giving the ‘hey, it’s the right thing to do’ message,” said Jeremy Willis, head of procurement at professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, at the debate in London.

Purchasers, he added, should focus more on attempting to change culture and behaviours – in travel for example – than focusing on where products are sourced, because the former will make a greater impact.

“You have to understand your own impacts - it’s different for every business and sector,” he said. “If you can go through that profiling process and understand what’s important and what you are trying to achieve, then it becomes real and everything flows from it, and it is all consistent.”

“Procurement people can’t do it alone,” added Tracey Rawling-Church, brand and reputation manager at office equipment supplier Kyocera Mita. “You need to take a holistic view across an organisation. It’s not ‘do I buy this car or that car?’ or ‘do I buy a train ticket from this company, or that company?’. The question is: ‘Is my journey absolutely necessary or is there another way I can engage with my customers?’.”

The public sector is approaching sustainable purchasing as a change management programme, Fiona Ross, director of the OGC's Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement, told those at the debate hosted by the Carbon Trust Standard. This, she said was comparable to the efficiency agenda introduced under the Gershon review.

Participants agreed close and sustained collaboration with suppliers was vital to drive sustainability. AkzoNobel, for example, has recently launched a type of paint with a 50 per cent lower carbon footprint, thanks in part to this.

“That also feeds back into the procurement team and gives them motivation,” said Brian Pembroke, quality systems & supplier development manager, at the firm. “Now we’ve got something that is tangible, making a step-change in the market, and the procurement team had a key role in making that happen.”
even if you think you are a leader on sustainable procurement you can still learn from others, said Willis. “You must steer clear of arrogance, thinking because you are a best practitioner your story is the only one. In fact the real value is when you coordinate forums with key suppliers and the best practice and innovation that comes out of those.”

And according to Harry Morrison, general manager at the Carbon Trust Standard, it's not simply about ditching suppliers if they don't measure up to your criteria. "It's actually about saying lets build into the contract structure and into the partnership you’ve got with the supplier over the next two to three years the criteria which is going to make both of you more sustainable. That is a more positve and practical way to approach the challenge."

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