Practitioners working in procurement jobs, whether as permanent staff or as procurement or supply chain interims, will have heard much recent talk about the importance of sustainability and ethical sourcing, but how does that translate in practice? Procurement consultant, Brian Seipel, explains in a new article for Strategic Sourcer magazine.

The terms sound noble because they are: many procurement professionals want to improve the world they live in by abolishing environmental damage and exploitative practices in supply chains. But the concepts must be applied practically, not held as lofty ideals. Seipel begins with this definition: “… sustainable procurement means acquiring the products and services our organizations need in a way that doesn’t compromise our collective future ability to continue on doing so. This includes the natural environment and human resources involved in the process.”

He adds that the three core areas that must be included in a sustainability strategy, are:

  • The workforce: protecting workers in the supply chain that the organisation depends on from unethical and exploitative practices.
  • Raw material sourcing: avoiding sourcing methods that destroy the prospect of continued, future sourcing.
  • Eradicating pollution in manufacturing: ensuring that production operations do not damage the environment or the people who come into contact with them.

This is just the beginning. To bring management onboard, quantifiable goals will be needed to avoid ambiguity. Sustainability questions in request for proposal (RFP) questionnaires, for example, are vital to gain insights into a supplier’s commitment to the issues but are meaningless when it comes to decision-making unless properly weighted in carefully-crafted scoring rubrics.

Seipel is upfront about offering minimum necessary guidelines for achieving true sustainability throughout the supply chain. Much work, for example, will need to be put into devising what sustainability questions to include in RFPs, notably which are the most important. But sustainability is set to become an integral part of procurement’s expanding repertoire of subject matter expertise.

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