Why procurement is at a ‘pivotal point’ to change the future

20 April 2023

If buyers can change how they consider sustainability in their teams now, they can avoid longer term difficulties and build ESG into fundamental purchasing considerations.

The growing acknowledgement of the importance of sustainability is an opportunity for procurement to make lasting, impactful change to “people, planet and profit”, speakers told delegates at the CIPS Sustainable Procurement Summit.

Drinks manufacturer Innocent's head of procurement Elodie Chavagneux said: “We are probably the first procurement leaders to see we are at a pivotal point in changing the way we are buying, and the last generation to be able to make an impact. Buying sustainably is not only the right thing to do morally, but also the best way to ensure the longevity and success of your business.”

However, becoming more sustainable in the current environment of volatility, uncertainty and risk will bring difficulties, speakers warned. In order to make effective changes, procurement teams should build their expertise and take action immediately.

Pharmaceutical manufacturer UCB's sustainable procurement and risk lead Geert Behets emphasised the importance of simply getting started. It’s “a question of pay now or pay later”, he added – if companies do not invest in sustainability now, they will have to pay greater carbon taxes later.

Pauline Potter, procurement director at delivery firm Evri, agreed. “There is no other option” except to “supercharge” sustainability, she said.

“The change management journey is in a completely different place compared to a few years ago. It’s now accepted that sustainability is a requirement,” she contined.

“Asking ‘is sustainability going to cost more?’ is an easy narrative. You need to ask, ‘can you break that down into specifics? Is there data to back it up? Are you talking climate change? Human rights?’ You can’t just say it’s hard, so we won’t make changes. Procurement teams need to have this mindset that yes, sustainability might be exhausting – but there’s no other option.” 

She suggested that procurement leaders should reinforce sustainable buying practices and encourage both upper management and team members to see sustainability as an opportunity, not a challenge. She emphasised the importance of “finding your experts” as a practical method of encouraging sustainability.

Members of Potter’s team have developed their expertise on a variety of sustainability subjects, which has meant they have greater understanding of a procurement lifecycle. 

“My packaging manager, who’s become an expert on that aspect, noticed that the material being used in some packaging wasn’t great. She asked if that could be changed, and the price was ever so slightly more expensive. 

“But by taking on that whole-lifecycle view, she was able to turn to her counterpart who’s an expert in waste and facility management, and found out the original packaging went to the tip and the company had to pay for waste removal. The new packaging was recyclable – so by having that expert knowledge in their areas, that collaboration, we were able to actually reduce costs and be sustainable.”

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