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Sustainable Procurement: The Key to Net-Zero?

  • Publish Date: Posted over 2 years ago

​As the final tos-and-fros of COP26 subside and the dust settles on a ‘something is better than nothing’ summit, the Procurement community in the UK has begun to consider what impact this has on the profession both at home and overseas.

The recent past has seen more and more businesses reliant on external suppliers to ‘take away the noise’ whilst they themselves focus on delivering most effectively in core areas by deploying the best internal resources.

But with this metamorphosis has come a new challenge, particularly in the face of the of world climate pressures, that is summed up by the increasingly widely utilised word:


Sustainability can be defined as the capacity to endure in a relatively ongoing way across various domains of life. In the present day, it refers generally to the capacity of the Earth’s biosphere and human civilisation to co-exist.

Whilst climate change must now be top of the agenda for business communities around the globe, we are all still dealing with a pandemic that has violently shoulder barged our supply chains off their tracks.

This in itself has clearly provided a huge challenge for Procurement functions in many areas and, whilst most have reacted in exemplary fashion and continue to achieve amazing results in spite of the chaos a pandemic creates, there are those who have chosen to pay less attention to sustainability in order to resolve the here and now.

According to a recent CIPS (Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply) survey, despite much of the UK’s carbon footprint being generated in supply chains, one in five (19%) supply chain mangers are not involved at all in sustainability planning.

In addition to this, the research showed that one in 10 (11%) respondents said their business had done nothing since 2019 – when the UK government set a goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

As we now hope to be out of the main storm which Covid-19 brought, it’s time for Procurement professionals to ensure that no matter what is thrown at us, we are able to achieve sustainable procurement at all costs.

Considering that 54% of consumers have reduced or stopped buying from organisations they believe have acted inappropriately on environmental or social issues (EY Future Consumer Index), it is more important than ever that the cornerstones of sustainable procurement are engrained in any business, no matter the size or global coverage.

Approaches such as operating in an environmentally friendly manner, maximising recycling opportunities, reducing waste and maintaining a healthy, fair working environment may occasionally lead to a short term change which causes the business to wince, but the long term benefits are palpable:

  • Risk reduction

  • Bolstered reputation

  • Waste, energy and related cost reduction

  • Revenue growth as the new adult generation of consumer is most definitely willing to pay that little bit more for a product or service that is sustainable and ethically sourced

  • Future proofing against the effects that climate change is going to have on supply chains over the next decades

Having viewed the world of Procurement from the touchline for a quarter of a century, I can confidently say that positive impact that will come from changes of approach and direction are almost immeasurable.

Sure, there will always be a pricing element lurking in the background, but cost is complex and can be reduced and avoided in many beneficial ways.

Those at the top of Procurement teams should be driving ESG (Environmental and Social Governance) as a mantra through their teams and their companies.

A good example of this is the recent comment from Matt Stallard, Head of Group Procurement at Sainsbury’s, who is clearly leading from the front in ensuring that “procurement is playing a big part in [Sainsbury’s] sustainability goals” and not only meeting their sustainability targets but bringing them forward and exceeding them.

I am sure many other businesses have similar initiatives and I am confident that Procurement will be a massive driving force in helping the contracts signed off at COP26 to not only be realised but exceeded, and help to give our planet and our lives a fighting chance.

Stephen has been pairing skilled Procurement professionals with leading industry employers for over 20 years. Find out more about his Procurement recruitment expertise here. If you would like to discuss your hiring or job searching needs, get in touch.