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The value of sustainable procurement and how to get started
By Carolyn Wincer, 16th February 2021
In this article Travelife for Accommodation shares tips and advice about how to reduce reputational risk and improve operations with a sustainable procurement strategy.
A well planned and executed sustainable procurement strategy is an effective way to manage reputational risks in your supply chain and reduce operating costs. With a bit of creativity, it can also provide great opportunities to engage your staff in positive and meaningful actions they can be proud of. In this article we look at the key factors of a good sustainable procurement strategy and share some of our top tips.
Ensuring you purchase goods and services responsibly wherever possible is one of the most important things your business can do to improve environmental and social impacts. This is because procurement touches on all aspects of your business and therefore all of your impacts, from how you purchase products and recruit staff, through to how you manage waste and shipping.
"Whilst improving environmental impacts is an essential part of any procurement strategy, a more holistic approach will have the best results."
When we think about sustainable procurement, we tend to consider things like buying less plastic or increasing our use of renewable energy. Whilst improving environmental impacts is an essential part of any procurement strategy, a more holistic approach will have the best results. That means you should also consider the human impacts such as fair labour practices, human rights and how your purchasing affects communities. This will require a careful review of your suppliers so that you can be as confident as possible that anyone you procure from not only considers their own environmental impacts, but also treats people fairly and is a responsible member of the communities they work in.
Small to medium businesses in particular will find such a detailed review of their supply chain challenging, largely because it can be difficult to establish exactly where and how goods are sourced. In these cases, the best approach is to learn more about sustainability topics in general so that you understand how to look for red flags and what you might do to mitigate the risks they pose. For example, human exploitation is more common in certain sectors such as laundry and cleaning services, whereas environmental exploitation is more of a risk in things like food or paper products.
Mitigating the risk of human exploitation in your supply chain could involve adding clauses or addendums to supplier contracts that clearly state your expectations about treating people fairly, and that you will terminate contracts if you find evidence of exploitation. Whereas one way to mitigate environmental issues is by sourcing products with a reputable certification, such as Rainforest Alliance or MSC (Marine Stewardship Council). And of course, if you are sourcing accommodation, you can look for our own Travelife Gold Certified label.
"Mitigating the risk of human exploitation in your supply chain could involve adding clauses or addendums to supplier contracts that clearly state your expectations about treating people fairly..."
Getting started with sustainable procurement
The best place to start is with a benchmarking process that fully assesses your current procurement so that you gain a full understanding of all the goods and services your business purchases. This should include quantities, supplier names and any high-risk red flags. From there you should look at where you can find quick wins (e.g. switching to Rainforest Alliance coffee) versus where you will need to do more work, with the latter being divided into short-, medium- and long-term goals.
For example, a short-term goal such as reducing plastic consumption by the end of the year should be relatively quick and easy to implement through things like eliminating single-use disposable plastics such as cups and water bottles. Other short-term goals could be switching to an electricity supplier that uses renewable energy or putting up signs reminding staff to save water in kitchen and bathroom areas.
Medium-term goals could be to add human rights and labour addendums to all of your tenders and supplier contracts, introducing a food waste composting programme or updating your business travel policy to reduce emissions by only flying on modern aircraft, reducing trips taken and offsetting your travel emissions.
Long-term goals might involve replacing all of the plants in your grounds with native varieties that protect and encourage biodiversity, installing light sensors in the office to reduce energy consumption or installing solar panels on your building.
Have a policy in place that senior management support
Your goals and actions should be turned into a procurement policy (or added to your existing one) that is approved by senior management. Their buy-in will ensure the policy is properly supported and it should be made clear that your procurement strategy needs to be integrated into day-to-day operations. To make sure you stay on track, you’ll need to have fixed deadlines against your goals as well as details on how you will measure progress.
Make sure this policy includes a clear statement of commitment that you can post on your website, include in any tenders you issue, add to staff handbooks and share with your suppliers. We recommend this statement takes in the big picture of being a responsible business by including reference to environmental, labour and social issues, rather than focusing on just one area.
Our top sustainable procurement tips
At Travelife we have conducted sustainability audits at thousands of hotels all over the world where we have seen the best (and worst) of sustainable procurement policies. Based on that, we have come up with some of our top tips that we think will work for any type of business, in any industry sector.
Start with quick wins
There is no need to wait to eliminate plastic glasses from your water cooler, order sustainably sourced coffee or to start taking advantage of a local food waste composting service. Those types of changes can be implemented quickly and with minimal fuss yet have big impacts.
Involve your staff
Find out what issues are important to them then incorporate those issues in your procurement strategy. We consistently hear from Travelife certified hotels that staff engagement is one of the most valuable aspects of their sustainability work.
They want your business, so you have the ability to help them become more sustainable by sharing your goals and expectations with them. Hopefully, over time, they’ll start making similar demands of their suppliers so that you create a positive knock-on effect.
Assess your progress
Use hard data and useful commentary to produce regular reports for senior management to review. For example, how many kilos of food waste you have eliminated? If you have success stories, be sure to share them with your customers, staff and other stakeholders.
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