Firms will focus more on sustainability - but is it just 'lip service'?

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
30 April 2014

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30 April 2014 | Will Green

Sustainability will move up the business agenda as the economy grows, according to a poll of buyers.

However, members of the SM Jury were divided on firms’ motives for embracing the strategy, with some saying it was due to better cash flow and others saying sustainability had a contribution to make the bottom line in and of itself.

In response to the question, “Will businesses be placing more emphasis on sustainability as the economy returns to growth?”, 10 jury members voted “yes” and two “no”. In a concurrent poll in the Supply Management Readers LinkedIn group three-quarters of respondents thought sustainability would rise up the agenda.

Miguel Santos, procurement senior consultant at Portugal Telecom, said: “Unfortunately we continuously see that – with the exception of some big firms – the issue of sustainability gets diluted during hard economic times and is recovered when the economy returns to growth.”

Pat Law, head of practice at Portfolio Procurement, said: “On the whole yes, but this will be driven by those industries who have been damaged by sustainability issues previously and largely ignored by those that have not.”

Gary Moore, procurement performance manager at BAE Systems, said he hoped sustainability was “long past being seen as a faddish initiative”.

“There persists a general perception out in the wider world that sustainability is still a green fad and a bolt-on, rather than a fundamental part of an organisation’s operations,” he said.

“The implication being sustainability is viewed as a topic for better times - a luxury almost - that does not have a contribution to make when times, usually meaning cost-base pressures, are hard. As soon as you apply basic analyses such as whole life costs, that negative view starts to get easily dismantled.”

But Neil Dixon, head of procurement and supplier management at LeasePlan UK, voted no, saying “the sea change that people refer to has not happened and I’m not sure if it universally will”.

“Sustainability via legislation will always deliver change, however, apart from in specific areas and specific industries there will always be other priorities that will drive the focus,” he said.

Tony Morris, client procurement consultant at Integreon, also voted no. “I think more lip service will be given to this issue but no real commitment. It’s a shame as innovation comes from here,” he said.

Cristian Martin, procurement and contracts officer at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: “We are always logical in our approach, treating sustainability as an investment. When making purchasing decisions we should always ensure that sustainability is used to ensure that costs are lowered either in the short or longer term as part of its offering.”

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