Since their adoption, there is an ongoing discussion how SDGs can be integrated and used by businesses; indeed, the SDGs explicitly name companies as contributors to a solution for sustainable development challenges. This article describes how the SDGs can be used as a framework for sustainable procurement strategy.
Sustainable procurement means turning risks into opportunities
Many risks companies face today are located in the supply chain and refer to reputation (corporate image) and strategy. First, deficits in the supply chain can damage a company’s reputation severely. This refers both to social and environmental issues; a widely known example is BP whose reputation was damaged due to the company’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. While every supply chain issue can cause direct financial cost for a company, reputation damage is something which can last for a very long time and which can hit a company in multiple ways. Despite lower sales, a reputation damage can for example also discourage talented people from applying for a job at the company.
Secondly, it can also be a strategic risk for a company not to manage its supply chain properly. If future scarcities of resources which are essential for a company’s operations are not properly accounted for in the strategy, and if a company is therefore not prepared to future price rises, it endangers its economic viability in the long term.
To tackle such risks, companies can implement sustainable procurement. It means that they can set standards that their suppliers need to follow. It consists of integrating sustainability criteria into the supply chain. On the one hand, risks are reduced. Indeed, if the supplier environmental system is solid, accidents and crisis should be solved quicker, reducing operational risks. If there is sound social dialogue and decent working conditions, there are less risks of strikes and of related production disruption. If human rights are respected, the reputation risk is managed. In the other hand, companies can benefit from various opportunities: more collaboration, more trust, innovation and new products, customer satisfaction, …
How can now the SDGs help companies to address and structure supply chain management?
You can tune your sustainable procurement strategy with the SDGs
The SDGs essentially represent a framework which addresses the full scope of sustainability topics and actors. The strength of this framework lies in its global acceptance and popularity; thus, using this framework for CSR communications means lowering the threshold of stakeholders to understand and back a company’s CSR strategy, including the sustainable procurement strategy.
The SDG Compass, issued by the Global Reporting Initiative gives an overview, how companies can link these targets to their business. By means of a high-level mapping of their value chain, companies can first identify topics where impacts are likely to occur. In the end, it should be clear whether core competencies, technologies and product portfolio of a company have rather positive or rather negative influence. This mapping process includes external stakeholder participation which adds additional aspects and points of view to the process. It is highly important to interact with the suppliers to understand what the impacts are, and where they occur. Indeed, in some cases such impacts are located only in the supply chain. For example, any retailer will avoid the potential risks linked to manufacturing, like occupational health and safety linked to machine use and high resource consumption. To do so, companies can ask suppliers about such risks during business reviews, make a quick analysis of their website or resort to risk databases.
After the mapping, a company should set measurable and time-bound goals to reflect the priorities and adopt related indicators. Such indicators express the relation between the company’s activities and the impact on stakeholders, and data for these indicators should be collected. Depending on the magnitude, severity and likelihood of current and potential negative impacts, a company then prioritizes indicators. Indicators linked to the supply chain need to reflect actual actions: share of suppliers considered at risk, share of suppliers audits, share of suppliers completing corrective action plan, share of successful re-audits, number of products including new sustainable features thanks to supplier collaboration, …
These preconditions met, a company is ready to integrate sustainability into its sourcing practices. In the case of supply chain, active leadership by the procurement management is key to implement the company’s requirements. A shared understanding of how value is created by becoming more sustainable help to anchor the set sustainable procurement strategy. In this sense, the company needs to communicate such requirements to the procurement department, who then interacts with the suppliers. Another best practice is the integration of sustainability goals into supplier performance reviews.
Finally, progress has to be constantly reported in order to demonstrate credibility. Results should be communicated to both suppliers and buyers. To ensure transparency throughout the supply chain, it is important to communicate such results publically. Indeed, clients of the company might also want to want to know what happens in the upstream supply chain. In this sense, the use internationally recognized reporting standards such as GRI, CDP or others is recommended in order to achieve comparability between companies.