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The importance of sustainable procurement and how to achieve it

Simply put, it makes good business sense to ‘go green’ when it comes to your procurement strategy - sustainability leads to reduced consumption of resources and therefore reduced costs: it positively hits the bottom line.

Customers want, and understandably need, to know exactly where the products they’re buying have come from, how they were produced and what impact they have on the environment. Furthermore, companies want to improve their own green credentials by working with sustainable partners, which is where the importance of sustainable procurement comes in. It isn’t just about cost savings; it’s all about good procurement practice and sustainable purchasing strategies, which will benefit a business now and in the future.

Businesses can’t implement a sustainable strategy overnight, and small steps need to be taken such as consolidating products and suppliers, however, the most important part of this is ensuring that any changes are made across the entire business. Where challenges occur is where good intentions miss an important issue that could destroy the reputational benefits of all the other sustainability efforts combined. For example, your chefs could do all they can to reduce the amount of waste produced in the kitchen, but your supply chain may not adopt a similar approach. Poor choices at this early stage often mean that the full benefits of sustainable procurement decisions that are ethical and deliver cost reductions are missed.

When Beacon is called in to help businesses develop a responsible purchasing plan, the company follows three simple steps: review, to understand what the business is doing and look at current practices, supply chain and pricing; consolidate, by exploring the possibilities to streamline products, suppliers and deliveries; and communicate. It’s essential to let people know the plan, why it’s important and how they can help. Set goals and measure, update, recognise and reward.

Thinking differently can bring interesting solutions to challenges; for example, reducing deliveries can throw up issues with on-site storage, but don’t let this be a barrier. We helped one of our customers who wanted to consolidate their frozen deliveries, but freezer space was an issue. We negotiated a solution with the wholesaler, whereby they invested in on-site freezer space for our customer in return for a longer-term contract. It was a win-win all round.

Of course, if a company is just getting started on its sustainability strategy, it’s not advisable to go in all guns blazing straight away. Don’t try to do it all at once. Take one category at a time and do it right. For example, when choosing guest amenities, hoteliers should consider which aspects of sustainability are most important for the hotel and its guests – use of natural ingredients, reduction of waste, recyclable packaging, the CSR credentials of the supplier or cruelty-free production and so on – and assess their supply options accordingly.

When you’re equipped with the tools to operate more sustainably through a new procurement plan, it is important to remember to communicate this strategy to clients. There are several accreditation bodies and measurement tools that can help you to shout about your fantastic step towards a more sustainable business.

So, where do you begin? These are our top tips for improving your purchasing practices:

Slowly, but surely

It’s best to implement your new programme slowly, but surely, truly considering how it fits with your business as a whole. There is no overnight fix, as a new procurement strategy takes time to be adopted throughout the entire organisation – it’s best to do it right over a longer period of time, than make any mistakes.

Choose the right suppliers

Whether you manage purchasing in-house, or use a purchasing partner, it is important to understand how your suppliers are committed to sustainability. Your partners need to share your vision and commitment to sustainability, without that, your aims may not be achieved.

Eco-amenities on the market

With a huge choice of eco-amenities available on the market, it is important to understand what sort of products you can opt for. From toiletries containing natural ingredients and organic extracts, to paper bottles and packaging, which provide waste reduction when compared to hard plastic, and bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which are recyclable, the choices are vast.

Measure and communicate

Several organisations offer benchmarking tools for measuring various elements of sustainable practices, and e-procurement systems can also be useful. Once you have a strategy and measurement plan in place, it’s essential to communicate what you are doing to clients to ensure they understand the steps you are taking and how these affect them.