Sustainable Procurement – Moving Toward A Cleaner Future

Published on 26 Apr, 2021

Years of environmental degradation and pollution have finally brought about the dreaded climate change, the effects of which are evident in the rising global temperature. Is there a way to maintain the delicate ecological balance and stop further harm to our planet?

The industrial revolution was an important chapter in global history. While it brought about greater employment opportunities and better lifestyles, it also marked the beginning of rapid environmental degradation. Industries soon became the main polluters on the planet. Air, water, and land pollution rose exponentially due to waste disposal, carbon emissions, and the rampant usage of chemicals.

Today, most products we use contain harmful chemicals and they come packaged in plastic too. Thus, marine life suffers, air pollution increases exponentially, and landfills choke on mountains of non-degradable waste. Individuals and companies are now waking up to the looming environmental crisis and are adopting sustainability measures. Governments worldwide have also enacted stricter environmental laws to ensure a ‘green’ way of living, going forward.

For corporations, this environmental awareness means changing the way they have been operating. They would need to revamp every process from the source right up to the finished product. To this end, they need to build in sustainability measures across their value chain and processes. One such main area of focus is procurement.

Sustainable procurement involves buying products, raw materials, and services that have the lowest environmental impact and positive social results. The company must look beyond economic parameters and consider factors such as the following:

  • The quality, availability, and functionality of the materials they procure
  • The lifecycle of their products
  • Environmental aspects such as carbon emissions, plastic pollution, or excessive water consumption involved in the use of such a product
  • Social aspects such as inequality in the distribution of resources, labor conditions involved in its production, and the exploitation, if any, of human rights
  • The recyclability factor of the material/product

Raw material sourcing
Manufacturing industries need raw materials to begin their process. Companies that have embraced sustainable procurement are now seeking renewable or natural alternatives to meet their requirements. An example of this consciousness can be seen in the packaging industry, which until now was using plastic derived from crude oil, but has recently adopted environment-friendly materials. Not only should ingredients be derived from renewable sources, but the end-product itself should not add to overall pollution. Many companies in the packaging industry are currently exploring innovative solutions such as bio-plastic.

Prestigious brands such as Unilever have successfully integrated sustainability in their procurement process. They ensure their raw materials are sourced thus that these do not pressure the land, the resource is renewable, and all of it – from base materials to the end product – is recyclable.

The trend of building sustainability into the procurement process is gaining acceptance and rapid adoption. However, the journey to achieving this goal completely is a long one.

Companies need to consider factors such as:

  • The pricing differential between sustainable and non-sustainable options
  • Commercial-scale availability of the chosen options
  • Vendors who can supply these alternatives
  • Steps adopted by competitors to reach this goal of sustainability

Companies must do their due diligence and research while strategizing how to embed sustainability in their procurement process. Information on the factors mentioned can help them take the right decisions and steps. It is always ideal to have an expert undertake research on such aspects. The expert can uncover insights that may be missed by someone less experienced; they could thus help companies reach the best decision for their mode of operations.