How firms can get started with sustainable procurement

Companies are increasingly recognizing that they need to incorporate sustainability into their strategic sourcing plans. Not only do eco-friendly products help improve many consumers' perception of a given brand, but green logistics can also help open up new, long-term pathways for cost reduction and help keep businesses viable in a future where resources may be scarce. 

But despite how clear the need to move toward sustainable procurement may be, actually making the change is rarely, if ever, a straightforward task. Ingrained processes that contribute to an organization's ecological impact may be difficult to spot and root out, especially if they have been in place for a long time and are known to cut short-term costs. So, what are the first steps for business that are interested in a more sustainable production and procurement process but remain unclear about how to get their operations in line with green principles?

Develop a plan

First and foremost, it's advisable to map out a step-by-step process that outlines how exactly the company will move toward sustainability. Within this process, firms must clearly articulate their goals, thinking about what results they hope to see and at what time these benchmarks should be accomplished. Executives should also identify problem areas within their current operations and think about specific methods for moving these practices toward efficiency and ecological soundness.

In a post for the GreenBiz blog, Susan Graff and Anne Johnson of Resource Recycling Systems laid out three starting-points for sustainable procurement management.

  1. Assessment: The first step is to get a clear understanding of just how much environmental impact is associated with the company's products, sourcing and distribution practices.
  2. Materials: Graff and Johnson pointed out that processing and packing may present greater obstacles to sustainability than companies believe. "Depending on the product, relative to other parts of the life cycle, the greatest environmental impacts may be associated with the extraction and manufacture of materials," they wrote.
  3. Waste: Because waste is "everywhere and actionable," according to Graff and Johnson, adopting production strategies that keep operations lean and result in as little unnecessary resource consumption as possible is a clear choice as a next step toward sustainability.

Think small

While the areas outlined by Graff and Johnson will necessarily impinge on big-picture issues and large processes, there are micro-level elements to sustainability. According to Fast Casual, many restaurant owners are rethinking their food-packaging materials - a relatively easy change that can have considerable impact. The key is to develop a timeline to sustainable sourcing that is adaptable for the business's unique circumstances.

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