An Interview on How Sustainable Procurement Programs Foster a Greener Future with Charlotte de Brabandt and Max Kent
Ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), held between 31st October and 12th November, we welcomed Charlotte de Brabandt and Max Kent to the Supplier Experience Live podcast, to discuss how sustainable procurement programs foster a greener future. Charlotte is a speaker, trainer, ambassador for the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) with over 10 years of experience in global procurement. Max is currently Vice President of Global Procurement at AP automation experts, Compleat Software.
From CSR to ESG, to sustainable procurement goals
Max starts off the discussion by acknowledging CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), which was on the agenda 5-10 years ago, and ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance), which has moved up the agenda more recently.
When looking at sustainable procurement, Max explains that there are three scopes to consider:
- Travel activities
- Energy and utilities
- Supply chain
“Procurement then have to be aware of what the supply chain is doing and sustainability from that angle is not only the carbon emissions, but it’s the product, the purchasing, how it’s delivered to you, what the life cycle of those products is, how they are produced and the ethical sourcing of those as well”, he adds.
Charlotte emphasized the importance of partnering up with sustainable suppliers, and helping them in achieving such status. “Sustainable procurement is very much really the adoption and the integration of the CSR principles into your procurement processes, and we need to ensure that the decisions which are being made meet those requirements”, she states.
As the sustainability agenda gathers momentum, the panel was asked about associated trends. Charlotte points out the impact on the environment due to people working from home and not having to commute every day and how this aspect has started a lot of new important conversations, especially the need within Procurement to move away from focusing on purely cost-savings to initiatives that will make a real difference.
The role of technology in fostering a greener future
Technology has enabled us to automate and complete everyday tasks more efficiently, effortlessly, quickly and accurately compared to manual processes. It has had a tremendous impact on digitizing Procurement as a function – and helping companies reach their sustainable procurement goals. According to Charlotte, “In general, procurement software can help to reduce costs by providing a clear view of the relationships with suppliers that you can leverage – and then you can gain a lot more transparency in your procurement process: you can increase efficiency, improve communication and thus inevitably reduce errors as well.”
Despite the positive impact that technology has had, it remains hindered by issues of bad data, such as inaccuracies, inconsistencies, duplication and similar. Max points out that supplier data is crucial for reaching sustainable procurement goals. He explains how easy it can be for any company to be using two or more suppliers who do the same activities, but whose the carbon footprints – and thus their impact – can be wildly different.
Improving supplier relationships through true partnerships
On the topic of the wider benefits of sustainability from a business perspective, Charlotte refers to improved supplier relationships. She gives the example of a webinar she held on sustainability in 2018, which welcomed more than 700 suppliers. The initiative allowed both sides to have an open discussion and to address questions.
“We didn’t hide who we work with,” Charlotte explains. “Everybody was able to see each other and we were able to use sustainability as one of the topics that we can all learn from; where we can benchmark against others and also share best practices about how other companies go about it. I think it opened up new opportunities for trust and for partnership. It provided a really good opportunity to redefine our procurement strategy and for us all to be able to partner with one another,” she concludes.
Max reminds us that, in order for this to happen, there is a certain mindset shift that is needed from both leadership and the rest of the organization. These initiatives should be imbedded into the culture of the company. He provides an example of a company whose major client was so serious about sustainability goals, it prompted their CEO to start thinking ‘We need to change the business if we’re going to be operating so we can retain this client. We have to be different because otherwise they’re going to go with a business that does have better sustainable credentials.’
Max hopes more leaders continue to adopt this way of thinking.