Reasons to be sustainable

10 August 2010
Once upon a time, sustainable procurement was considered to be primarily about risk management. I recall long conversations in the unofficial “macro issues” group of the Sustainable Procurement Task Force. Those of us who had achieved some modest success in driving sustainable procurement in the private sector had done so by scaring the pants off our boards with the reputation risk involved, and we used risk management techniques to introduce sustainability to our supply chains. There was then a lot of discussion about how to translate the concept to the public sector, which is understandably risk-averse and does not necessarily understand the concept of risk management in the same way. That was in 2005. Now organisations may have a variety of reasons to be sustainable. They may be led by personal vision, such as the late Dame Anita Roddick of the Body Shop, by market leadership like Marks & Spencer with its Plan A, by competition like the automotive sector, or by public duty, as is the case with utilities and public bodies. All organisations have a unique mix of these motivations and it is vital to understand them in order to make decisions about how you need your supply chain to behave. Businesses and cash-challenged public bodies need a strong reason to do anything. It is no longer acceptable to have sustainability as a bolt-on extra because “it is the right thing to do” or because it is “good PR”. If you don’t have a good reason (or reasons) to be sustainable, then don’t do it. However, be aware that if you don’t you may not have a business for much longer. * Shaun McCarthy is director of Action Sustainability and chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012
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