Jamie Ganderton, Vice President at Proxima, examines the future of sustainable procurement going into 2024.

As we step into a new year and inch closer to the global sustainability targets set for 2030, the spotlight on sustainable procurement will only continue to intensify. The aftermath of COP28 has placed an even greater emphasis on the role that large corporations play in global decarbonisation. This, coupled with incoming rules and legislation across Europe and the United Kingdom, such as the European Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), has underscored the critical need for agile and proactive approaches to corporate sustainability action.

The Scope 3 Benchmark, a tool developed to enable organisations to collaborate to advance progress on sustainability targets, has shown that Scope 3 still remains a challenge and 2024 will be a pivotal year in addressing some of the fundamentals as we move within just two short contract cycles away from 2030. Looking ahead, the focus will sharpen on bridging the gap between sustainability objectives and procurement strategies, with an emphasis remaining on translating lofty sustainability goals into actionable procurement strategies. As we navigate 2024, collaborative advancements, data-driven insights, and the proactive evolution of procurement practices will be critical drivers, propelling sustainable procurement into a new role of implementing purposeful action.

Embedding sustainability targets into procurement strategies

Whilst it seems like an obvious starting point, many procurement teams have not yet fully embraced the need to translate sustainability requirements into procurement strategy. Even for those that have, challenges remain to translate sustainability language into effective procurement strategy. There is a tendency for organisations to panic and jump straight into supplier engagement, without first planning who they are going to engage and what are they going to need from them.

The goal for many in 2024 should be to plan out how the next six years are going to look and begin progress as soon as possible, because we know that change takes time and never happens as quickly as we intend. Sustainable procurement transformation is going to require focus and investment to get right. The core focus areas should be measuring emissions to drive action, developing the functional enablers to support the change, and developing the strategic levers for decarbonisation.

Leveraging emissions measurement to drive action

The primary starting point is to understand your emissions, in detail. Embrace carbon emissions measurement and start reporting them, ideally across all categories of Scope 3, but at least the core supplier-related areas. Following the GHG Protocol’s spend-based methodology is an adequate starting point, provided the outputs you develop allow you to drive insights into your emissions “hotspots” and start evolving greater accuracy as data quality and supplier maturity improves. Procurement teams can then begin to develop the strategic decarbonisation levers they will need for their categories.

Making procurement functional enablers

Building a sustainable procurement function requires the right support pillars, but evidence coming from the Scope 3 Benchmark suggests that some key foundations are missing. Firstly, there is a lack of directly invested resources, and there are also limited numbers of support team members. The volume of interaction with suppliers on Scope 3 is high, therefore you need someone to set the strategy and have an effective team to enact it. Even medium-sized businesses will have a reasonable number of material emitting suppliers who need engagement and management, which creates an increased workload for supplier management teams.

Additionally, many organisations have limited Scope 3 learning and development capability plans to support team members in developing their carbon literacy and bridging the skills gap.

At some point procurement needs to be bold and make carbon a key consideration throughout decision making, from up-front category planning, through to RFx and sourcing processes, negotiations and contracting, and post-contact supplier management. If there is no consideration given to carbon with equality to the classic cost, quality and service evaluation, then we will never make different decisions. There will never be a commercial incentive to suppliers to support decarbonisation efforts and we will inevitably fail. In 2024, we will begin to see more forward-looking CPOs begin to build carbon pricing into their decision-making, paving the way for processes to change.

Developing policy to help suppliers face reality

Traditional procurement policies are usually written once and then set in stone without the need to revisit them any time soon. Over the coming years, the old Procurement Policy is a tool that has the power to make a huge impact and one that needs its own evolution. This policy development will enable a blanket application of sustainability to be adopted without procurement intervention in every sourcing decision. Between now and 2030, we need to strengthen the requirements annually to allow suppliers to gradually get used to the changes and ratchet up the pressure over time. At some point in the future, there will be a decision not to trade with some companies if they have not met minimum standards. This tough line should motivate those to change or risk losing business.  

Once procurement teams get to grips with what is driving carbon emissions in the supply chain, they then needs to develop the right approaches to motivate, encourage, and sometimes force suppliers to act. Some suppliers will be on board with the need to decarbonise and happily support the process, whereas others will need significant levels of ‘encouragement’. Some categories will be relatively straightforward to plot a pathway to decarbonisation, whereas others have more complex challenges and require more strategic levers. Category teams will need to build a comprehensive picture of their suppliers and in many cases begin the co-development of solutions to tomorrow’s problems. Research and innovation, product reengineering, and demand management can all play a significant role in reducing emissions, but release of value may be some time in the future, which places a greater emphasis on 2024 being the year to truly put weight behind the efforts.

A green future

As we look to 2024, a lot needs to change if we are going to meet the looming global sustainability targets. Many procurement teams are still grappling with integrating sustainability into their strategies. The next few years mark a critical juncture and demand meticulous planning and swift action. Transforming procurement practices to align with sustainability goals requires measured steps, starting emissions measurement and building a strategic decarbonisation plan from there. Whilst there is a lot to be done, with the right strategies in place, procurement teams are poised to play a pivotal role in accelerating organisations’ progress towards net-zero.

Jamie Ganderton, Vice President at Proxima

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