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Sustainable Purchasing: From Strategy to Policy [3rd in a 3-part series]

Our first and second posts in this series on Sustainable Purchasing have good reasons to use purchasing dollars to support sustainable purchasing. But how can you create an effective strategy to promote sustainable purchasing all across your company? How can you turn that strategy into a Sustainable Purchasing Policy? It’s not as difficult or complicated as you may think.

First, use a best practices approach to create a company-wide strategy. Write it out. A written strategy helps to focus on the most effective ways to achieve your goals. It can also work to bring others in the company on board. This is helpful since you’ll need support from across the company for the strategy to succeed.  The key to success is to start small, set goals, do pilot projects, grow, and chart your progress.

Tips for creating a strategy and embedding it in a policy:

  • Get people on board.  Start by identifying allies within your company. In our experience, successful sustainable purchasing strategies start with a small group of company champions. Talk to your co-workers about the benefits of sustainable purchasing. Be sure to include co-workers with purchasing authority! Form a working group to promote sustainable practices – if you already have a green team, that’s a great place to start. Don’t forget to enlist the support of at least some senior management.
  • Use the free resources. If you don’t have time to do extensive research on sustainable products (and who does?), there’s a wealth of free material available.  The EPA publishes Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guidelines. These guidelines cover a wide variety of products and services. The Responsible Purchasing Network also has extensive resources available on its website to help identify the best products. Our second post has more references.
  • Make it easy to find sustainable products. Identify products with tested and approved sustainability attributes though certification and labeling programs. Make a list of them. Make lists of other “approved” products and/or providers that you’ve identified. Call these your company’s “shopping list.” Then make your categorized list available to everyone in the company. Encourage everyone to use the list when purchasing – this is where having management support is critical.
  • Buy less! The most sustainable purchase is the one that isn’t made. Remember: reduce and reuse come first! Encourage everyone to think before purchasing new products and materials. Have them ask if there are options for repurposing what is already on hand. Some common choices are printing everything double-sided, and reusing drafts and misprints as note paper. Get creative!
  • Set goals, measure your progress, and celebrate success.  Be sure your company tracks its purchasing spend and purchases that qualify as “sustainable.” Identify clear metrics of success. Track your progress on a regular basis.  Let everyone know about success you achieve. This helps to build more support as you move forward.
  • Develop a sustainable purchasing policy.  Move to the policy level once your sustainable purchasing strategy has traction. With proven success, you can get serious about your company’s commitment to sustainable purchasing. Embedding that commitment by adopting a formal policy sends a powerful signal. It shows your company’s commitment to sustainable practices.  It says that senior management cares about reducing pollution and conserving natural resources.  It underscores a concern for public health and safety. And it sends a signal that you’ve found a way to achieve this without sacrificing your company’s financial health. A policy gets everybody rowing in the same direction when it comes to sustainability considerations and purchasing decisions.

To make the move from strategy to policy you’ll need a critical mass of people on board. Be sure that some senior management is on board early on. Then grow that support throughout the process. To ensure management support, build a solid business case based on the benefits of having a Sustainable Purchasing Policy. We listed some of those in our first post. Here are a few more. A sustainable purchasing policy can help your company to:

  • Reduce its purchasing and transportation costs
  • Reduce its environmental impacts
  • Reduce waste
  • Create a reputation for being environmentally and socially conscious
  • Build relationships with local businesses and bolster the local economy

The benefits of having a sustainable purchasing policy can reach beyond your company and local community, too. Collectively, these policies have the power to drive market-scale changes. As more companies adopt a sustainable approach to purchasing, sustainable purchasing will become the new normal.

Tips for developing a Sustainable Purchasing Policy:

  • Use a collaborative, team-based approach. When you start developing a policy, it’s important to have input from across the company. Enlist the help and support of staff from every area that does purchasing.
  • State your company’s commitment to sustainable purchasing. What are you committing to do? What will compliance with the Policy achieve? Write a list of the commitments the company is willing to make.
  • Provide guidance for implementing the policy. Make policy compliance easy for all who make company purchases. Write clear and concise guidelines and provide easy access to your company’s purchasing list and any certifications or standards you select.
  • Identify a “policy steward.” Who will be responsible implementing the policy and tracking success? State that person’s name in the policy so everyone knows who to go to for help.
  • Align the policy with your company’s strategic goals. How does your Sustainable Purchasing Policy align with and support you company’s broader goals? Calling out these connections can help people see the importance of policy compliance. It shows how being sustainable can be part of business success. If you think about this early on, it can also help you get buy in.
  • Communicate about and celebrate your success! Spreading the word about your company’s achievements is a powerful way to keep policy compliance healthy. Let everybody in the company know and you’ll increase employee engagement and satisfaction. Telling your suppliers and customers can improve those relationships and improve sales.  Letting the wider world know can enhance your company’s reputation, influence others, and help drive the market for cost effective sustainable products.

At Sustrana, we streamline strategy and policy development. Our technology platform is easing the way for getting buy in, building the business case, and implementing pilot projects. In the coming months we will also be launching our new Policy Builder tool. If you’d like to be one of the first to beta test our sustainability technology products, sign up!

This blog also appeared in 2degreesnetwork.