Procurement Trend #10. e-Procurement Integrates Sustainability

We’re down to seven anti-trends. And even though most of the “future” trends we are now discussing are recent enough that the older generation can actually remember their beginnings with clarity, we need to follow LOLCat’s lead and find a way to stop the beat of the futurists‘ drum because, even with these trends that started in some of our life-times, the drum has been beaten to death and I still fear, like LOLCat, that the futurists’ may soon return to the age old art of cat-skinning to make a new one!

So why do these hare-brained futurists (who obviously re-enacted one too many Looney Tunes skits during wabbit-season) keep pushing the integration of sustainability into e-Procurement as a future-trend? Is it because, after years of real forward thinkers trying to convince the Businessman that cost-savings and sustainability weren’t diametrically opposed ideas, the futurists finally clued in? Or is it because

  • energy prices are going through the proverbial roof

    and they are grasping at straws trying to find a solution (and lucked on the right one)

  • raw material supply is running out

    and they finally realize the importance of sustainability in supply management, but since that’s not catchy, they chose to integrate it with the first concept they pulled out of their hat (and got lucky again)

  • CSR is increasing in importance with consumer concern

    and since customers are telling them to buy responsibly, and buying is e-Procurement, this must be the way to go.

Well, they are right. But leading companies have recognized this since the 1990s and have been doing this for well over a decade. They recognized that while renewable energy had a high-up front cost because it required large investments in solar panels, windmills, and turbines and new plants to either store excess energy produced during peak times in natural pump storage or huge battery arrays, it’s cost over time approaches pennies per Megawatt hours as sun, wind, and water power, unlike coal and oil, is free. Once the plant construction costs are paid off, it is just maintenance costs. It doesn’t matter if the technology is only 80% efficient and the pump storage only captures 60% of excess energy. The energy is free! Plus, these forward thinkers, unlike our futurists, also recognized that fresh water would soon be in short supply and invested in plant redesign to minimize water requirements.

Energy Prices

You need to go renewable to the extent possible and put plans in place to get to 100% renewable energy for all fixed operations and short-haul transport as soon as is feasible. While electric and bio-diesel may not yet be a suitable option for long-haul 18 wheelers, trains, and air-planes, electric and bio-diesel has bee proven cost effective for local courier delivery and hybrid has been proven cost-effective (by Walmart) for long-haul 18-wheeler transport. And if you build your own power plant, the long-term return from solar, wind, and/or water power, depending on where your operations are located, will be enormous. So there’s no excuse to not be using renewable energy for the majority of your energy needs. Plus, the first company to get 100% renewable for its operations gets huge bragging rights and brand karma!

Raw Material Supply

As per our post on increased raw material scarcity, you have to facilitate alternate designs that reduce or eliminate rare earth minerals and other expensive metals in limited supply and design for recycle in the interim so that you can recover as much as possible of the rare-earth minerals as possible to keep future costs down. (Preferably without outsourcing to a third-world country that breaks down your products in improper environments without proper containment and safety gear for handling your products that contain hazardous chemicals. No one wants your e-waste, especially if its hard to handle. If even India enacted anti-dumping legislations for e-waste, that should tell you something.)

Corporate Social Responsibility

We are approaching the point where it is no CSR, no sale, with many consumers, and as far as the doctor is concerned, it cannot come soon enough. We won’t knowingly put up with sweatshops and unsafe working conditions at home, so we shouldn’t put up with it in our supply chain. To turn a blind eye is hypocritical and, to be blunt, just unacceptable. It is time to get sustainability initiatives in place, embed ethics in the supply chain, and embed responsibility in the organizational culture. Suppliers don’t have to go the extra mile, but they should provide their workers with safe working conditions, a fair wage based on the local market, and actively insure that child labour is not used in their supply chain.