Sustainability is not a stick to beat suppliers with

27 April 2012

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27 April 2012 | Adam Leach

Educating suppliers about the benefits of being more sustainable and helping them improve are key to engaging them, according to senior buyers.

As sustainability and corporate responsibility have moved up the business agenda the demand on suppliers has also increased, with requests to cut emissions, report on energy usage and submit to audits from customers now common.

Hywel James, head of procurement systems and policy at Centrica, told delegates at the Sustainable Purchasing & Supply Summit in London yesterday some of the firm’s suppliers were concerned about audits.

“I got a lot of concern and lot of feedback about [the audits] because they felt it was going to be a stick to beat them with,” he said. He added the company, which owns British Gas, saw the process as more of a tool to enable collaboration, identifying where suppliers were in terms of sustainability and where they could improve.

But he admitted in some cases remedial action may need to be taken. “There will be some suppliers who fall below our standards and then we’ll need to work with them straight away to ensure they at least come up to an acceptable level, because we don’t want to be in the spotlight because of their failings.”

Felix Gummer, commercial manager of waste and recycling at Tesco, who appeared alongside James at the conference suggested purchasers should approach suppliers in the same way as stakeholders. “I think the conversation with your suppliers is exactly the same one you should be having internally,” he said.

“Over the past few years it’s just been a massive stick to beat people over the head with, but that’s not how you engage with people. If you talk to your suppliers and point out the benefits of what you’re asking them to do, then you’re going to start getting better engagement.”

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