I made a prediction earlier in the month that more organizations will look to become greener this year. There are plenty of things organizations can do to improve their sustainability, but Procurement pros are in an excellent position to help lead their organizations to meeting these goals. Why? Because we move beyond the confines of our facilities and can have an impact with all the suppliers our organizations choose to buy from.

So, what can Procurement do to help make our organizations more sustainable and environmentally focused, while still working to reduce costs and promote efficient purchasing?

“Sell” Green 

There’s cost savings in these initiatives, but also a level of change required to make them work – and it isn’t always easy to get stakeholders onboard with these changes. Here’s a tale of two organizations’ janitorial service providers to show what I mean.

Both organizations wanted to cut costs and considered moving to linerless trach receptacles to do it. Plastic trash bags take a notoriously long time to decompose (anywhere from 10 to 1,000 years). Cutting liners out can have a huge environmental impact for a large office – but requires personal change. One organization ended up cutting 80% of their liners to get greener and cut 2.5% of their monthly janitorial costs as a bonus. But this required employees to throw away gunky garbage (think lunch waste) in the still-lined receptacles in break rooms. The other organization’s management team felt this was too much of a burden to place on employees. Liners stayed in place.

Before we can start building a green Procurement strategy, we need to get our organizations and suppliers excited about the opportunities they bring. Is 2.5% monthly savings on janitorial services “worth it?” It certainly helps to position a change on cost benefits, but ultimately there’s an attitude change that needs to take place as well.

Establish Green Go-To-Market Events

Reducing or eliminating trash liners is just one green example. Green packaging options can cut waste while still offering exceptional protection for goods. Organizations can also push paperless initiatives. They can purchase green office and cleaning supplies, and eliminate disposable breakroom supplies in favor of reusable dishes and utensils. For organizations in deregulated areas, they can switch energy suppliers to those that offer green energy.

Procurement, naturally, has a hand in all of these decisions. As such, we should brainstorm such opportunities and propose go-to-market initiatives to bring such products in.

Even if a market event isn’t specifically focused on a green initiative, Procurement can promote sustainable purchases by including green elements in RFP documents. Ask suppliers to highlight green products in their quotes. Ask suppliers to outline their own green initiatives, and define what percent of their own suppliers offer green products and services. Make your commitment clear from the beginning.

Be a Green Advocate

Gut check question: Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? Follow-up: Have you already given up on any? If you have, you aren’t alone – less than 25% of people stick with resolutions after January ends.

Sticking with green initiatives will be much the same – it isn’t enough to sell green strategies once, or launch a few isolated green market events.

  • Work with management to set annual sustainability goals. Help the cause by tracking green purchases monthly as one of the overarching KPIs of this goal.
  • Work with suppliers as well. This will be particularly important for smaller suppliers that may not have much experience with sustainability initiatives, and don’t have the resources to devote to full-time team members to focus on being green. 

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

Beyond reducing environmental impact, there are certainly opportunities for cost savings from going green. But reducing an organizational environmental footprint and achieving those savings isn’t always easy.

Dedication is needed to identify green opportunities, see them through, and ensure that sustainability initiatives are a consistent focus as time goes by.

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Brian Seipel

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