Putting More Muscle, Brains, and Heart into Sustainable Procurement

Jun 6, 2013 7:00 AM ET

To make sustainable procurement more effective, we need to apply more power in three areas: codes and policies, data and information, and leadership values. BSR Director Tara Norton discusses how we must use more "muscle, brains, and heart" to source sustainably--and to prevent tragedies like the factory collapse in Bangladesh from happening again.

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By Tara Norton, Director, Advisory Services, BSR

It’s difficult to do, but let’s take a step back from the recent industrial disasters in Bangladesh and talk about what businesses can do differently in their own approaches to buying and sourcing. A business can make a tremendous impact through decisions about how it procures goods, where it sources from, and the terms of its relationships with its suppliers.

Despite 20 years of thinking, action, and collaboration, it is clear that sustainability is still not integrated into these decisions. Certainly, Rana Plaza has been a wakeup call for the apparel sector, but this lesson is not limited to that industry.

We could spend more time analyzing what has gone wrong and why, but I suggest that we already understand the issues; it’s time to put our efforts into taking the actions we know will make a difference.

Let’s use our muscles: Get tough on the fundamentals.

We need tough sustainable purchasing policies (not only supplier codes) that will make it nearly impossible for buyers to make unsustainable purchasing decisions. Purchasing sustainably must be the buyer’s job, without exception.

This is happening in certain companies: Marks and Spencer does a good job integrating sustainability requirements into core buying responsibilities through its balanced scorecard (part of its Plan A commitments), and IKEA makes it very difficult for their buyers to source unsustainably, through its Sustainable Product Scorecard, which the company first announced in its 2011 sustainability report.

More companies need to emulate these examples and put uncompromising policies and responsibilities into practice.

Use our brains: Get smart about data.

We know how to source responsibly. There is enough information and knowledge across industries to help buyers everywhere make decisions that will allow their businesses to remain competitive without negatively impacting the environment or people in sourcing countries.

Three particular functions have a role in this...

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BSR works with its global network of more than 250 member companies to build a just and sustainable world. From its offices in Asia, Europe, and North and South America, BSR develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting,research, and cross-sector collaboration. For more information, visit www.bsr.org.