Sustainability and ethical sourcing have been hot topics lately… Well, to an extent.

More people are talking about these issues and are spending time thinking about what we can do in corporate America to help improve the world we live in. Yet translating those talking points into action is a lot harder. Why? Because we exist on a local level, thinking about the world that exists from our doorstep to that of our suppliers. So, what can we do to elevate our view?

Defining Sustainability

First, let’s define the term. Definitions vary widely, can be somewhat ambiguous, and cover a wide range of subjects. For our purposes today, let’s say that sustainable procurement means acquiring the products and services our organizations need in a way that doesn’t compromise our collective future ability to continue on doing so. This includes the natural environment and human resources involved in the process. In other words, we need to focus on:
  • Ethical treatment of the workforce. Protecting workers who create the products we rely on. 
  • Raw material sourcing that destroys the ability to continue sourcing in the future. Properly managing natural resources so they’re available in the future.
  • Manufacturing processes that contribute to pollution. Ensuring production doesn’t harm either the environment or people that come in contact with the process.

The Sustainable Sourcing Process

To succeed, we need a sustainability focus to be part of our organizational standard operating procedure. This starts with management. Getting management to join the cause requires building a business case along with an outline of expected benefits. We’ll also need to establish quantifiable goals – otherwise, we’ll stay stuck in the realm of ambiguity. Set goals, and be sure to communicate progress towards hitting them.

Once we’ve established the need and gotten buy-in, let’s incorporate sustainability into procurement activities. Since organizations are only as sustainable as their suppliers, talk to yours today about any sustainability initiatives on their end. Also make sure that sustainability is baked into new relationships, starting by adding sustainability questions to RFP questionnaires. Be sure that answers are factored in scoring rubrics – asking these questions but not weighing their scores into the decision making process is useless. Finally, before executing any agreements, make sure sustainability language is included here as well.

Get Help when Needed

We’ve talked about some high-level considerations, but not broken down too many details yet. Filling in the gaps can be difficult – for example, we talked about including sustainability questions in our RFP, but what questions are the most important? We know to score them, but how much weight should be applied?

It’s OK to not have the answers right now – again, even though sustainability is entering the discussion more and more lately, few of us are experts. Work with management to either invest in impactful sustainability training or seek to bring in outside help through sustainability consultants.
Either way, seek to make sustainability part of Procurement’s growing area of subject matter expertise.

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