Tara Norton, Director, Advisory Services, BSR

By its nature, sustainable procurement is a heavy subject. Sustainable procurement professionals spend their days thinking about how the decisions that their businesses make may affect the environment and the lives of workers. Most days, they focus on assessing and avoiding risk. On the bad days, they must deal with the aftermath of a serious code violation, or worse, by a supplier.

With these complex tasks, and the pressure that comes if they get it wrong, it can be hard for procurement professionals to step back and find time to think about what can be done differently. However, as many recent events have shown, there is still much progress to be made, and it’s time for new and innovative approaches.

But the question is, how? At least part of the answer lies in  inspiration. Companies are often experimenting and innovating—running pilots, changing approaches to supply chain, hiring for new roles, and so on—but many of these efforts remain under wraps until they’re well understood and documented. Of course, companies need to be mindful of competition issues and intellectual property protection, but there is room for companies to talk more about what they are doing and inspire each other with new ideas.

A few months ago, we hosted a workshop for BSR members on reshaping corporate approaches to sustainable sourcing. We all left challenged but also inspired. In the interest of ideas-sharing, and to get the inspiration flowing, here are the highlights:

  • Be bold; move from incremental improvements to transformations. Sustainable procurement is critical to business success, and companies need to be stronger in accelerating change and willing to make the big leaps necessary.
  • Experiment with new ideas and approaches. At the same time, we need more experimentation on a micro-level. Case studies and conversations showed that companies are trying new things and moving away from accepted thinking. Others should replicate these ideas and have the courage to try untested ideas.
  • Demonstrate how procurement is a strategic part of the business. Procurement can be a source of innovation, and companies need to promote the value of procurement and place it alongside marketing, manufacturing, R&D, and design, while encouraging better coordination among departments.
  • Be an example of forward thinking and strong leadership. Businesses should assess whether they want to be leaders in this space and take on new thinking and actions. They should also be willing to talk about both successes and lessons learned.
  • Develop more robust tools and data to engage buyers and investors. Two key audiences are continually missing from the discussion: buyers and investors. Companies need both hard data and appealing tools to engage these audiences.

For more inspiration, please check out the full summary from our workshop. And please share your ideas for sustainable supply chain innovation in our comments—and stay tuned for more on sustainable procurement.