Historically, Procurement’s mandate has involved cutting costs and little else. The reputation for barking orders and slashing spend has led to more than a little resentment within certain organisations. Business units are often hesitant to engage with the function. When they do, they’re typically gritting their teeth and counting down the seconds until they can go back to focusing on their own key objectives.
Reducing costs is a noble cause – and Procurement’s top priority. But it’s just the beginning of what Procurement can offer the business and its customers. With its cross-functional position and unique insights into the supply chain, Procurement has the capacity to fundamentally change the way an organisation operates.
I examined some of the life-saving initiatives that Procurement teams across the globe are supporting. Cracking down on modern slavery and optimising disaster response plans, they’re evolving in their role and making it possible for corporate leaders to serve a higher purpose.
This time around, I want to look into Procurement’s efforts to address even broader issues. In addition to saving individual lives, great Procurement teams can potentially save entire species by working to identify and address worldwide environmental concerns.
Procurement Can . . . Save the Planet
Addressing Climate Change
The most pressing environmental crisis of our time, climate change, has dominated conversations among politicians, business leaders, and consumers for more than a decade. While forecasts vary from source to source, it’s clear that rising temperatures and sea levels present nothing short of an existential threat. From a business perspective, the myriad effects of a changing climate could mean a 10 per cent reduction in profits for American businesses. The planet and its people could suffer even more dire consequences.
The global economy simply cannot continue along the path that’s gotten it to this troubling position. For Procurement, the looming threat of climate change should provide the quintessential burning platform. It’s an opportunity for the function to distinguish itself as the value-added entity and to take the lead in designing a totally new worldwide supply chain.
When most of us think of climate change, we think of greenhouse gas emissions. While it’s somewhat reductive to describe such a broad issue through these narrow terms, addressing emissions is certainly a high-impact way to begin promoting responsibility. It’s not nearly enough to clean things up internally. Even organisations that don’t personally burn coal and oil often rely on supplier networks that make an outsize contribution to climate change.
The Carbon Disclosure
The Carbon Disclosure has found that suppliers often account for four times as many carbon emissions as an organisation’s direct operations. This eye-opening fact has inspired a number of businesses to broaden their approach to sustainable business. As organisations gain additional visibility into their supply chains, they have more and more power to enforce a higher standard of responsibility.
Target, for example, has made supplier-generated emissions an important part of its climate goals. In addition to establishing objectives of its own (including a 30 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030), the retailer is asking nearly every one of its suppliers to begin working toward similar goals by 2023.
One of Target’s direct competitors, Walmart is taking a similar approach. The world’s largest retailer is not merely holding its suppliers accountable for cutting down emissions, but offering additional incentives for those who successfully do so. They’ve partnered with HSBC Bank to introduce a new program that will provide better loan terms to organisations who make demonstrable progress.
Data, visibility, and consistent communication will only become more important as Procurement teams work toward cutting down emission and addressing their contributions to climate change. Still CDP reports that just 35 per cent of organisations are tracking emissions throughout their supplier networks. With the wealth of information at Procurement’s disposal growing in scope and the conversations around our climate growing in intensity, there’s no longer any excuse for inaction.
Fighting Ocean Pollution
Paper straws aren’t especially popular, but they’ve already served a valuable purpose. In addition to getting plastic out of the restaurant supply chain, they’ve forced consumers to confront their own reliance on plastic-based products and materials. Simply put, businesses and their customers buy a lot of plastic and Mother Nature is typically the one stuck footing the bill.
Eight million tons of plastic wind up in world’s oceans every year. With consumption expected to surge, experts predict we could see more plastic than fish by 2050. In certain regions, plastic particles are already outnumbering plankton 26 to 1.
With its central role in material purchasing, Procurement enjoys an obvious opportunity to take the lead in identifying and introducing sustainable alternatives to plastics. In 2017, Dell Technologies announced that it would take an especially creative approach to amending its supply chain. The organisation elected to create an entirely new supply chain dedicated to collecting and re-purposing ocean-bound plastics. This initiative provides a perfect example of the wide-reaching effects an environmental initiative can have.
Providing access to near-endless supply of affordable materials, Dell’s new reclamation supply chain helps the organisation cut down on its material spending, create a slew of new jobs for collectors and recyclers, and (most crucially) provide an example for other business leaders to follow.
They’re already partnering with likeminded organisations through their Next Wave program to build a collaborative supply chain for collecting and reusing ocean waste. They expect to reclaim more than three million pounds of it within the next five years.
Dell’s not the only organisation cleaning up its act to clean up our oceans. Businesses throughout the retail and restaurant sector have also taken swift action to address the question of waste. Walmart, Aldi, and Trader Joe’s are just three of the retailers looking forward to a post-plastic world.
Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, for their part, have made headlines by pledging to provide sustainable alternatives to their single-use cups. Each of these projects, regardless of scope or industry, will rely on strong Supply Management minds to steer the ship.
Procurement Can . . . Do More
It’s an unfortunate reality, but time is running out for businesses to take action and pursue environmental initiatives. In the past, organizations might have hemmed and hawed on the subject of sustainability. Fearing higher costs or the hard work of transitioning to new suppliers, they might have looked for excuses to forget about the environment and focus on something more directly relevant. There’s no forgetting about the environment anymore. Reports from organisations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest that while businesses and consumers have done a great deal of damage, they still possess a valuable opportunity.
Back in 2015, Nielsen confirmed that more than half of consumers will pay more to do business with environmentally responsible organizations. They want to purchase natural, sustainable products from companies that have made green practices a central component of their missions. The conversations around pollution, deforestation, climate change, and other environmental concerns have only grown more intense in the intervening years. Companies that continue to avoid pursuing the “triple bottom line” (people, profit, planet) will soon find themselves growing more irrelevant, unsuccessful, and even controversial throughout the next few.