Four steps to start sustainable procurement

3 June 2014 | Diane Webster

Diane Webster is director of marketing at Beacon PurchasingIt makes good business sense to go green when it comes to your procurement strategy. Sustainability leads to reduced consumption of resources and therefore reduced costs: it positively hits the bottom line.

Businesses can’t implement a sustainable strategy overnight, and small steps need to be taken such as consolidating products and suppliers. But the most important part of this is ensuring that any changes are made across the entire business.

Beacon follows three simple steps when helping businesses develop a responsible purchasing plan: review, to understand what the business is doing and look at current practices, supply chain and pricing; consolidate, by exploring the possibilities to streamline products, suppliers and deliveries; and communicate. It’s essential to let people know the plan, why it’s important and how they can help. Set goals and measure, update, recognise and reward.

Thinking differently can bring interesting solutions to challenges; for example, reducing deliveries can throw up issues with on-site storage, but don’t let this be a barrier. We helped one customer who wanted to consolidate their frozen deliveries, but freezer space was an issue. We negotiated a solution with the wholesaler, whereby they invested in on-site freezer space for our customer in return for a longer-term contract.

Of course, if you are just getting started, it’s not advisable to go in all guns blazing. Don’t try to do it all at once. Take one category at a time and do it right. So, where do you begin? These are our top tips for improving your purchasing practices:

Slowly, but surely. It’s best to implement your new programme slowly, but surely, truly considering how it fits with your business as a whole. There is no overnight fix, as a new procurement strategy takes time to be adopted throughout the entire organisation. And it’s best to do it right over a longer period of time, than make any mistakes.

Choose the right suppliers. Whether you manage purchasing in-house, or use a purchasing partner, it is important to understand how your suppliers are committed to sustainability. Your partners need to share your vision and commitment, because without that your aims may not be achieved.

Eco-amenities on the market. With a huge choice of eco-amenities available on the market, it is important to understand what sort of products you can opt for. From toiletries containing natural ingredients and organic extracts, to paper bottles and packaging, which provide waste reduction when compared to hard plastic, and bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which are recyclable, the choices are vast.

Measure and communicate. Several organisations offer benchmarking tools for measuring various elements of sustainable practice, and e-procurement systems can also be useful. Once you have a strategy and measurement plan in place, it’s essential to communicate what you are doing to clients to ensure they understand the steps you are taking and how these affect them.

Diane Webster is director or marketing at Beacon Purchasing

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