In Part 1 of this series on sustainable procurement, I laid out my vision of the heart of a sustainable, green supply chain that runs through its procurement function. It’s simple to show how every product has a hidden human health, environmental and social impact along the entire supply chain. However, it’s been challenging to bring sustainable procurement into a central decision making role in line with organizational business goals. The results to date have been a mixed bag, as I alluded to when I mentioned Aribas new Vision 2020 report and companion dialoguing process, now underway.
Sustainable Procurement: back to management!
On the heels of the Ariba effort comes a promising benchmark report recently released by HEC-Paris and Ecovadis. Entitled “Sustainable Procurement: back to management!” this study (available for download on Ecovadis’ site) has risen to rescue and tempered my fears of devolving sustainable procurement. In fact, the report may suggest a positive “tipping point” in favor of sustainable procurement. The efforts behind the 2011 edition of the HEC/EcoVadis Sustainable Procurement Benchmark were carried out between the fall of 2010 and early 2011. This benchmarking process started in 2003 and the 5th conducted since that time.
The objective of the benchmark is to provide a snapshot on what’s trending in the area of Sustainable Procurement practices. According to the authors, the following overarching questions were explored:
- How has the vision of the Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs) evolved?
- What tools and initiatives seem to be the most effective over time to drive changes?
- How is Sustainable Procurement progress measured?
- What are the remaining challenges faced by most Procurement organizations?
The study identified three main drivers behind Sustainable Procurement initiatives: Risk Management, Value Creation, and Cost Reduction. These findings mirror some of the trending areas and critical issues identified in the Ariba report. HEC and Ecovadis suggested that these three drivers’ shows that many organizations are now facing new expectations in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability from the Procurement Departments of their clients and, suggest that having a sustainable procurement program in place can become a competitive advantage.
Sustainable Procurement Remains High on Executives Agenda
- 92% of the surveyed Companies consider Sustainable Procurement a “critical” or “important” initiative, even though for the 1st time this year, “Risk Management” took over as a priority initiative.
- The major progress made in 2011 is on the support from the Top Management (+24%) thus demonstrating that Sustainable Procurement is attracting more and more interest from Executive Committees, and significant progress was made in implementation of tools and organizational changes.
- Significant organizational changes have been implemented: 45% of companies already have “dedicated teams” and 57% report having trained a majority of procurement staff on Sustainability.
- Whereas in 2007 only 1/3 of companies were using formalized methodologies for assessing their suppliers’ sustainability performance, in 2011 two-thirds of them are now implementing dedicated tools (either internal or leveraging 3rd parties).
- Finally 92% companies have increased (56%) or maintained (36%) their budgets related to Sustainable Procurement, which should yield more changes in the future years.
Tools for Sustainable Procurement on the Rise
The HEC/Ecovadis study found that basic tools such as “Suppliers Code of Conduct” , “CSR contract clauses” and “Suppliers self-assessment“ were now the rule rather than the exception among companies surveyed by a ratio of 2 to 1, but interestingly were still found to limited value in terms of risk management. What I found encouraging was that the study found maturation in the types of tools used, including “Supplier Audits” and “Supplier CSR information databases“. This type of work has clearly been evident in what I have reported in the past, especially among multi-national companies with contractor manufacturing operations in developing economies (like China, India and Brazil). These advanced tools offered more opportunities for suppliers to engage directly with buyers, allow for data verification, and offer direct recommendations for supplier CSR and sustainability improvement. Over half of the companies surveyed had advanced to this next level. Finally, when asked what the most effective uses of resources were in developing a Sustainable Procurement Program, respondents mentioned 1) top level support, 2) creation of cross functional teams and 3) training, as key success ingredients. All three of these success factors had shown substantial improvement over the past several benchmark cycles, according to the study.
Sustainable Procurement Creates Value
This is not the first study that has come along that demonstrates value and return on investment from sustainable procurement. I wrote earlier of a joint study by Ecovadis, INSEAD and PriceWaterhouseCoopers that demonstrated similar results. In that study, payback from most green procurement activities was huge. Companies surveyed were able to benefit quickly from risk management reduction and potential revenue growth opportunities, due in part to sustainable procurement. The study also found that there were additional ‘value creation’ opportunities that could be realized if procurement departments collaborated more closely with the marketing and R&D departments upstream on the projects.
Also, a study in 2009 by a company named BrainNet (Green and Sustainable Procurement: Drivers and Approaches”) looked at sustainable procurement and value creation and found that “… procurement with an ecological and social conscience is not a cost factor, but a value factor…Companies that pursue a consistent approach to green and sustainable procurement receive an above-average return on capital deployed.” The study produced what they describe as an “evolution curve for sustainable procurement” that describes the maturity of various approaches of sustainable procurement. This curve compares well with the most recent EcoVadis/HEC findings and suggests that there may be a widening gap between leaders and laggards.
Sustainable ‘green’ procurement embraces a holistic approach, one that encompasses organization, people, process, and technology to create greater product value along the entire supply chain. This type of value creation can managed by establishing firm triple bottom line based metrics from upstream suppliers to downstream users and using the procurement function to support product and process innovation and accounting for total cost of ownership (TCO).
According to the most recent HEC/EcoVadis benchmark report, it is clear that new green and social business models depend upon innovation, and a gap still among many organizations to implement a truly Sustainable Procurement vision. This was clearly in evidence by the lack of mentions by Chief Procurement Officers that I discussed last week in the Ariba study.
The HEC/Ecovadis report suggests that when implementing Sustainable Procurement practices, a three phase process can get the ball rolling, starting first by orienting and energizing the procurement function through:
“1. Communication activities: Building awareness among employees regarding the approaching change, the benefits and the steps to be implemented.
2. Training and Performance support: ensuring that the initiative is being understood among those who are to execute the change or be part of it, and leading to buy-in of the key stakeholders.
3. Rewards and recognition: ensuring that employees – and suppliers – who embrace change are properly recognized and rewarded. This final step is when implementation is not only measured, but also celebrated.”
I’m going to say it again…and again. All sustainable business roads lead through the procurement function. The procurement function is the perfect nexus and a critical organizational player that touches product designers, engineers, multiple tiers of suppliers and subcontractors, manufacturing operations, logistical warehousing and distribution and the end users. Yes indeed, things are looking up for sustainable procurement…it’s ‘game on’.