How to sell the benefits of sustainability to the boardroom

CPOs have described four key ways to persuade the boardroom of the benefits of prioritising sustainability.

In a panel talk at the CIPS Virtual Conference 2020, leaders explored how a case for sustainability can be made through debunking false mindsets around cost, outlining the value it brings and benefits to supplier relationships, and using industry initiatives or forums.

Virginie Vast, head of procurement, innovation and sustainability at Amazon, said procurement had a responsibility to be in “the driver's seat” so when it came to decision-making sustainability is included.

The four ways are:

1. Debunk the cost mindset

Thomas Udesen, CPO at Bayer, said: “One of the big myths that we need to get better at debunking is this whole notion that sustainability comes at a cost and that these are two mutually-exclusive forces. 

“We need to come up with use cases and show that this is not true. It's a source of innovation and value for the organisation, we just need to be more comprehensive in how we talk about that.”

He also said it would be useful to remind the board of what is happening at a legislative level, which could also impact costs (i.e., legal fines for deforestation in supply chains).

Tony Roy, head of governance and sustainability at BT, added: “I've had loads of examples where I can very quickly demonstrate that it doesn't have to cost more. In fact, over the long term, it can actually cost less in many cases."

2. Positive impact on growth and talent

Emma Peacock, global VP of sourcing at Mars, said: "There's two big priorities that all of our businesses have, and they are growth and talents. Sustainability is a ruse to access both, so demonstrating the power of innovation that that can provide on the top line is where we can have a responsibility.”

Peacock referred to a recent internal study they conducted on three categories – coffee, bath products, and chocolates – and how it demonstrated there was "a very clear proposition for the business to enable them with sustainable solutions to deliver growth”. 

She added: “It attracts the best talent as the best want to work with organisations with purpose. Millennials will do that for less money, so you can get the best for less.”

3. Helping you become customer of choice 

By including sustainability in supplier relationships strategies, procurement professionals can show themselves as customers of choice.

Roy said BT’s procurement team were great at helping suppliers on the journey to sustainability and provided support on where to start, including using renewable energy to drop carbon emissions. 

4. Turn to industry initiatives or forums

The panel emphasised the importance of communicating with others through initiatives such as the Sustainable Procurement Pledge and sector forums. 

Oliver Hurrey, environmental procurement consultant at Galvanised, said: “Both as businesses and as professionals, there is so much support out there from your peers, who may be slightly more experienced than you or perhaps facing exactly the same challenges. 

“You are almost always going to have the ability to be part of an industry initiative. I highly recommend that everyone has a little think about where they can join in and share the cost and the impact.”

Peacock added: “Have a voice in your industry forum and say what you need for your business to make it work.”

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