'Getting out and meeting suppliers key to supply chain sustainability'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
6 March 2014

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6 March 2014 | Will Green

The head buyer at Northumbrian Water has said the firm embraced sustainability in the supply chain by “getting out and meeting our suppliers”.

Philip Hicks, procurement manager at the water company and responsible for £50 million of annual spend, said they identified their key suppliers and then engaged with them to understand the risks they faced and what sustainability meant for them.

“We engaged with the top 50 suppliers and just got out there to understand what their risks were, how we could support them; what sustainability meant for them,” he said.

“We created some data which facilitated best practice throughout the supply chain. It was a really successful activity. The key thing for me was getting out there and meeting our suppliers.”

Hicks, speaking during a Supply Management webinar entitled “Tips on how to make your supply chain sustainable”, also said he expected suppliers to help them achieve sustainability.

“Sustainability forms one of our key procurement principles,” he said. “We want to be in the lead in what we do. Without a doubt we see our supply chain as a key tool in achieving that. We expect our suppliers to help us get there. We look to them to help us and challenge us to get there.

“If we all do it as procurement professionals we will all be able to contribute to positive change.”

Shaun McCarthy, director of Action Sustainability, said firms needed to set out objectives clearly, while leadership and measurement of outcomes were essential.

“Writing down what you expect your supply chain to do is really important because as procurement professionals we need that clarity,” he said.

“You need good leadership. If you don’t have that leadership it’s very difficult to get the results.”

Emily Pearce, stakeholder manager at Sedex, said research by PwC and MIT showed just a third of companies were “actively seeking transparency” beyond tier one suppliers, yet the “greatest and most critical risks are found lower down the supply chain”.

“It’s important to recognise that your supply chain is made of people who want to have successful businesses,” she said. “It’s important you treat businesses as equals to gain that transparency and trust.”

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