CSR: easy to say, so much harder to do…

27 August 2009
In 2007, campaign group ActionAid reported that you could buy a complete school uniform in certain UK stores for less than £10. You can now get one for less than half that price. Is this the result of buyers wielding their buying power and subjecting suppliers to tougher negotiations? Doubtless. But is that necessarily a good thing? It’s back-to-school season and with the recession, it’s obvious why large chains are proudly promoting their small price tags. But what is their total cost of ownership? At those prices, do they risk encouraging a throwaway culture that sees goods bought one day and thrown in the bin (and sent to landfill) the next? It may be that all these items are sustainably sourced with decent life spans. But the selling point is cost and cost only – and as you tell us in our latest SM100 poll, for many of you sustainable purchasing is off the agenda as you too focus solely on saving money. However, in difficulty lies opportunity, and some companies have succeeded in putting sustainable procurement initiatives in place. In fact, they argue they can’t afford not to because “sales depend on these programmes”. The argument comes back to value. In order to drive CSR, purchasers have to find the tangible value in taking that approach. They need to ask what is the potential cost (risk) of not doing something, and what is the potential  benefit (including revenue) of doing so. The case has to be made on this basis. While purchasing’s profile is raised, perhaps there is no better time to put it forward. And as our law update points out, in some areas, soon you may have no choice. Three simple letters. CSR. Easy to say, so much harder to do…
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