Professionals holding procurement and supply chain jobs across the world, from permanent practitioners to interims, will be prioritising sustainability in the year ahead, delegates were told at the World Procurement Congress in London this week. The event brought together Chief Procurement Officers from across the board to unveil their plans to provide a competitive advantage while maintaining ethical sustainability practices.

Sustainability has moved from being an item on procurement’s agenda to the main driver of it, situated as it is between business, suppliers, and customers. Whereas before, procurement teams tended to view sustainability as an issue to take note of to avoid being fined, today they see it as an opportunity to create novel innovations. For example, Unilever CPO, David Ingram, told attendees that “sustainability and acting responsibly was a massive driver” for the company. His team is currently collaborating with small-hold palm oil farmers, who deliver half of Unilever’s palm oil between them, to improve their yields and increase visibility across the supply chain. The aim is full traceability by the end of 2019.

Similarly, Heineken’s CPO, Herve Le Faou, highlighted sustainability’s new status as a source of innovation, saying: “We need to see the glass as half full when it comes to sustainability. Don’t look at it as a punishment, because it is an opportunity to find new solutions and new technologies.” He illustrated his point by describing Heineken’s efforts to work with microbreweries to dispense with the packaging currently used to transport its beer to market.

The CPOs who spoke shared a consensus that brands focussing on sustainability were enjoying vigorous growth. Procurement teams were now tapping into that and helping their businesses, and society more broadly, to reap the rewards. Relationships are no longer being managed on a one-by-one basis but through the development of stakeholder ecosystems to work on solving challenges and generating innovations, a model adopted by the CPOs of Siemens and Nokia.