Survey found 50% of procurement professionals were reducing single-use plastics © Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images
Survey found 50% of procurement professionals were reducing single-use plastics © Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Buyers 'want to be green but can't get the resources they need'

11 May 2022

Procurement and supply professionals want to prioritise sustainability but business leaders “won’t give them the resources they need”, according to a report.

The report, from training provider Skill Dynamics, found two-thirds (66%) of procurement and supply executives had entered the profession to drive sustainability improvements but demands from leaders for a return on investment (ROI) left them falling “back into old habits of prioritising cost”.

The report said a survey of procurement and supply professionals found 81% felt energised by the opportunity to drive sustainability improvements, but 59% said leaders would only approve initiatives with clear ROI.

The survey, involving 210 executives, found 37% had a habit of prioritising cost-saving over sustainability and 59% found it easier to focus on savings than sustainability. Three-fifths (57%) said difficulty in tracking benefits made it hard to prioritise sustainability over savings. 

Despite 97% of companies implementing sustainability initiatives, just 54% of organisations had clear targets for them. Further, 31% of respondents reported conflicting organisational objectives, focusing on efficiencies and growth over improving sustainability.

Omera Khan, professor of Supply Chain Management at Royal Holloway University in London, who co-authored the report, said: “Supply chain and procurement professionals are in a really difficult situation. They want to prioritise sustainability, but leaders won’t give them the resources they need unless they can project ROI on investments. 

“This is a real roadblock, as many of the returns on sustainability initiatives are hard to quantify, taking the form of reputational gains or business longevity. Professionals are clearly struggling to bypass this, so fall back into old habits of prioritising cost in decision making.” 

Despite widespread acknowledgement on the importance of sustainability, 59% of respondents did not have CO2-reducing initiatives in place. This is particularly troubling for procurement as scope three supply chain emissions can make up as much as 95% of a business’s overall emissions footprint.

Sam Pemberton, CEO of Skill Dynamics, said: “Just 41% of respondents reported having initiatives in place to reduce CO2 emissions. Are businesses really trying to be green – or are they picking and choosing easy-to-do sustainability initiatives that will look good, but not necessarily achieve much?”

The report suggested a lack of accountability as one reason for a lack of progress. Just 40% of respondents felt they had a high level of responsibility for setting sustainability strategy and targets.

“It’s leadership’s role to remove this roadblock – but supply chain and procurement professionals can also meet them halfway by evidencing the success of sustainability initiatives as much as possible,” Khan said. “There’s clearly room for improvement here, as while 97% of respondents are implementing, on average, four sustainability initiatives, just 54% have targets for every one of these – and it’s very hard to evidence success without targets.

“Supply chain and procurement professionals are being asked to improve the sustainability of their organisations, but few are formally being given responsibility for this, or being incentivised to drive progress.

“The vast majority (81%) say sustainability is an increasing part of their role, yet just 25% are rewarded for achieving sustainability targets. Organisations need to address this, because if supply chain and procurement professionals are not clear on their new sustainability remit, how are they supposed to fulfil it?”

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