Although the theory is well regarded, the practical aspects of introducing a sustainable procurement strategy are often overlooked.
This article is by Gerard Chick, Chief Knowledge Officer, Optimum Procurement Group.
About 10 years ago the UK government started taking the pursuit of sustainable procurement seriously. They established a task force of industry experts to try to define ‘sustainable procurement’, and develop appropriate standards for general deployment.
The Government’s goal was position the UK at the forefront of sustainable procurement in Europe by 2009. Their framework and recommendations have been instrumental in guiding sustainable procurement strategy, theory and practice across the globe.
What is Sustainable Procurement?
So what is this thing we call sustainable procurement? Sir Neville Simms, chair of the UK Procurement Task Force, described it as the use of procurement “…to support wider social, economic and environmental objectives, in ways that offer real long-term benefits” to organisations and the communities in which they exist.
These long-term benefits include:
- The achievement of significant savings by focusing on a “whole life costing” methodology for procurement.
- The incorporation of the “three Rs” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), to cut waste and improve the efficiency of resources.
- The enhancement of businesses public image, by demonstrating a sustainable approach to business, and championing related environmental and social benefits.
- The development of new markets for innovative products and services through technological advancements.
- The improvement of management information, a focus on business and supply chain risk, and better supplier relationships.
- Competitive advantage as a consequence of the early adoption of practices, focusing on increasingly environmentally-focussed legislation.
Developing Sustainable Procurement Practice
The UK Task Force devised a National Action Plan to inform interested organisations to adopt a sustainable procurement strategy. In 2006, Procuring the Future was published to support public and sector organisations in taking their first steps in this burgeoning area of interest.
To help you, here are the central planks of the report established as recommendations for those who wanted to develop sound, achievable, sustainable procurement practice:
- Be a beacon: Provide clear direction for both procurement and your supply base providing consistent leadership and policy-making on sustainable procurement issues.
- Set the standard: Fully implement existing procurement policy and standards. and ensure these are extended across all procurement activity. This will improve performance and underline expectations, including the establishment of well understood minimum standards for your suppliers.
- Prioritise: Rationalise existing procurement standards into a single integrated procurement framework, which covers both policy relevance and appropriateness.
- Test: Filter and select new procurement policies to ensure they are enforceable, before considering implementation.
- Develop capability: Ensure you and your team have the requisite professional skills to support the efficient deployment of sustainable procurement.
- Tool up: Provide the appropriate tools, training and information resources to execute these standards.
- Be ready: Ensure you already have the appropriate budgetary mechanisms in place, and that your spending and budgeting policies facilitate your sustainable procurement strategy.
- Be proactive: Encourage openness to innovation and look proactively for opportunities to drive social benefits through your engagement with suppliers and the wider marketplace.
There is no doubt that the UK’s lead is now being adopted elsewhere, and that the global procurement community seeks to embrace a sustainable approach with an eye on good practice coupled with other significant business rewards.