Sustainability leaders must stand up to criticism

11 February 2011

11 February 2011 | Paul Snell

Buyers who champion sustainable purchasing must be prepared to face a negative reaction from colleagues and suppliers but should not let it put them off.

Speaking at the Sustainable Procurement – The New Era conference in London yesterday, Nigel McKay, head of supply chain, quality and asset management at Bovis Lend Lease, said leadership on sustainable procurement can leave purchasers open to criticism.

“You have to stand there and you almost have to set yourself up to be shot down, because actually you are taking the industry, people and companies somewhere they have never been before, or in some cases, places they don’t really want to go,” he said.

But he advised purchasers to be resilient in the face of this. “You need a strong stomach. When you are taking a leadership position, you are there to be shot at, but you have to come back every time.”

He highlighted his firm’s work on the 2012 Olympic village as evidence that such leadership can encourage the sector to alter its behaviour. In order to do this, one crucial ingredient is choosing the right suppliers to work with.

“The supply chain is the all-important piece. As organisations, we subcontract 90 per cent of the work. We are letting go of our risks and targets to our supply chain. We have to find the right companies that align their aspirations and company values with ours.”

Andrew MacAskill, supply chain director at Skanska, emphasised responsible buying should not be a different way of working: “We see it as an absolutely essential and efficient business practice,” he told delegates. “It is integral to the way we work. It’s not something we do in addition to procuring, it is the way we run our business, it’s the way we engage our supply chain and it’s the way we procure.”

And there was a warning from George Martin, head of sustainable development at Willmott Dixon, that buyers are still not purchasing based on lifecycle.

“Why I am so angry is that the definition of sustainable procurement [in the Sustainable Procurement Task Force report, published in 2006] talks about the procurement of products and services on the basis of whole-life costs and still we are not procuring on whole-life costs,” he said. “If I had one wish it would be to primarily change the procurement process so that whole-life cost is the primary driver of decision making, and capital cost would be a secondary measure.”

He said the barriers were generally decisions made by clients. The supply chain was not typically the problem because buyers can change vendor behaviour, he added.

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