The Sustainable Procurement Pledge team has brought together professionals in a movement to be the sustainability superheroes of supply chains – “Because with great power comes great responsibility.”
The Sustainable Procurement Pledge (SPP) are rallying the power of the crowd to improve engagement and knowledge in sustainability and lead the function into a new era. Following the critical 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference and warnings of failing targets, there has never been a better time to spotlight SPP and the importance of responsible procurement.
Oliver Hurrey, head of fundraising and chair of community meetings at SPP, described how the network has rapidly risen from an aspiration to a movement:
“We’ve gone from two CPOs having a shared vision together to 6,000 professionals wanting to work together and drive change. It’s obviously exploded – Zoom meetings that used to have 10 people on them now have 1,500 people on them.”
Since starting the project in October 2019, SPP has come a long way in a short time. It has progressed into an organisation and met its network in-person for the first time at the end of 2021. The concept emerged from the passion and will of co-founders Thomas Udesen, chief procurement officer (CPO) at Bayer, and Bertrand Conquéret, Henkel CPO and president of Henkel’s Global Supply Chain B.V. The platform is based on bringing together professionals that feel strongly for environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibilities through community engagement and skill-sharing.
On the road to professionalising
Procurement professionals take a pledge to become an ambassador of sustainable practices – this could be anything from working closer with suppliers on ethical sourcing to developing fully fledged social responsibility committees for companies – and, in return, gain access to a global network. SPP’s pledge and strategy is inspired by the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals and adapted to align with procurement professionals’ roles.
Professionalising has been one of SPPs biggest achievements in the last year, as the start-up has been registered as a legal entity and non-profit organisation (NPO).
Udesen said: “We have gone from idealism and passion to creating the infrastructure that prepares us for the scale-out. From start-up towards professionalising, this progress continues to ensure we have funding scheduled, strategies developed for community engagement and the know-how on the hottest topics. Equally, it’s about creating a knowledge platform that allows us to push content to the ambassadors.”
A network exploding with potential
The pledge that underpins the movement is made up of five initial principles which procurement ambassadors put into action. Astrid Bosten, chair of advocacy work streams and marketing at SPP, loosely outlined these as ‘listening to others, sharing knowledge, and being aware of the responsibility that you have and the opportunities that arise’ in your professional capacity.
The boom in ambassadors joining – reaching 5000 in 2021 and expecting to double year-on-year – is a reflection of the need for more structured collaborative networks. The team is developing a strategy to access large groups of professionals at once through working with entire companies, industry bodies, or supply chains, and aim to have a network of 1 million by 2030.
Hurrey said: “It’s about intelligently trying to bring cohorts of procurement professionals together to drive change in their industry and supply chain. If companies get their entire procurement team to join SPP at once, they’re getting a coordinated support for their business.
“A knock-on effect is then created if the food, drinks and pharmaceuticals industries do it as a collective, giving them a better chance of embedding standards and responsibility in their industry. Once they ask their suppliers to invite their buyers and suppliers’ buyers to join, a cascading snowball effect is created up that supply chain.”
A 2021 survey by SPP into their ambassador network revealed that over two thirds (67%) believed that joining SPP has had positive impacts on their professional decision-making. According to the data, the ambassadors are made up of 16% C-suite professionals, 67% in middles and senior management and 10% young professionals. Procurement professionals represent a variety of sectors, including chemicals, food and beverages, life sciences, and supply chain and public services.
Bosten emphasised that the biggest community impact has been one of motivation and inspiration across buyers, providing them with encouragement to continue their sustainability mission.
Priya Poomalil, purchasing manager of Sustainable Packaging, Resins & Corporate Sustainability, North America, at Henkel Corporation, said that the opportunity to network with procurement professionals who have a similar mind-set has been like a guide.
“It is absolutely incredible to go about my role in sustainable procurement with the knowledge and expertise of those who know how to implement more sustainable practices. When we learn about sustainability initiatives in our company, [such as] how to add value and overcome related challenges, as well as empower others, we can truly make an organisation that is contributing to a more sustainable planet,” she added.
Addressing the barriers to a sustainable future
SPP are helping professionals by addressing the gaps that are holding them back from effectively embedding more sustainability into their procurement decisions.
Hurrey explained that this may include not knowing how to implement practices, as well as lack of support, knowledge, expert advisors, leadership or encouragement and inspiration to drive change
“We aim to close all those gaps. They need detailed information on what to do on scope three emissions, circular economy or human rights. That’s why we provide sector networks and subject matter expertise; to give ambassadors access to information and its impact on procurement.
“What’s the best way to get confidence to make changes? To see other people like you doing it. We emphasise the importance of introducing yourself and engaging with others in meetings, not just sitting and listening quietly. You can relate with others that have been in your shoes, share their pain and get excited about new opportunities together,” he added.
Marco Carella, strategic procurement manager at a chemical production firm and capacity building lead at SPP, took encouragement from the SPP network to make informed sourcing decisions and initiate his own sustainability projects. He said: “I quickly understood that I need to convince my management before I could implement sustainability criteria into my sourcing processes.
“I decided to create a full Responsible Sourcing Program for my organisation. If I succeed to convince our management, soon the whole organisation will start integrating sustainability criteria into their sourcing processes. SPP gave me some great insights and contacts, which I needed to build up the business case and strategy.”
SPP’s digital platform (ssp.earth) has created a ‘free-for-all one-stop shop’ for access to knowledge on sustainability-related matters which buyers may face problems with. This includes how to use metrics to drive sustainability and technology solutions for responsible sourcing decisions.
SPP holds skills-sharing at its core and plans to roll-out web-based training and a mentoring centre in the future. According to the ambassador survey, professionals want to be supported by knowledge from case studies, practical discussions and training tools. In alignment, SPP has been engaging with academics within procurement since its induction. Recently, the team began its University Outreach program to inform future generations on responsible leadership and the environmental impacts of supply chain decision-making.
Scaling up in the procurement world
Practitioners within similar areas will be experiencing the same problems, therefore creating branches of communities within many regions and sectors was vital. SPP began with ambassadors and engagement across all geographies and industries, including the UK, Europe, and South Africa. It has expanded into areas such as the USA, and public procurement, charity and electronics sectors.
Udesen explained: “The mechanism for scaling up is through community engagement. Currently, we are launching a global network of chapters, across geographies, industries, and focus topics such as packaging or supplier diversity & inclusion, as well as creating new partnerships with institutions. We believe that they will be vehicles for engagement, alongside further ambassadors.”
As part of building representation in the charity and NGO sector, it has been working with professionals from Save the Children, WWF, and UN procurement teams.
Call out to aspiring sustainability leaders
SPP are currently recruiting the first ten corporate procurement teams to become SPP “Champions”, which includes onboarding the entire procurement organisation using SPP’s capability-building support – in return for a corporate donation. A “Champions League” of CPOs is also being created to guide the community and co-ordinate on what sustainable procurement leadership looks like moving forward. Please contact Oliver Hurrey at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com if you would like to get involved, and check out the SPP LinkedIn page for any upcoming virtual events.
Words by Lucy Patchett, Novo-K Journalist