Staying Power

How sustainability will define procurement

To sustain. To continue. To keep going. For those having enjoyed 2021’s summer of sport, it will be a familiar pundits’ question: can they sustain this run of form? Can she sustain this pace? If yes, success. If no, loss, failure, an end to continued participation.

The meaning of a word

Until now, sustainability was used within business parlance in two distinct ways: one that addressed the first meaning: the ability of the business to continue its growth and development without set-back, without stalling. Let’s call this Performance Sustainability. And the other refers to an appreciation of a business’s green or environmental credentials: ESG Sustainability.

These meanings have now converged.

It is now time to view Performance Sustainability as synonymous with ESG Sustainability. A growing, successful business must be one with environmental, social, and financial performance goals at its heart.

Questions are being asked of procurement, and soon they will become demands. So, what do we do?

Complete the form below to read the article and learn how to translate your sustainability plan into a value proposition.

We are what we buy

Most organizations are, in large part, a product of what they buy: a collection of goods and service supply chain decisions. As such, procurement teams are uniquely positioned – and have the skill-set – to help redefine organizations’ sustainability through different, and hopefully better, procurement decisions and processes.

Carbon, or Green House Gas (GHG) impact is defined by three Scopes of emissions (see below). While procurement can influence across Scopes 1, 2 and 3, Scope 3 emissions can frequently account for up to 80% of an organization’s impact, and it is here that procurement has the biggest responsibility. Using the GHG Scopes as a proxy for wider sustainability issues, it is easy to see why procurement is so relevant. It is also important to note that, until recently, Scope 3 has typically been ignored or omitted from action plans and reporting. This segregation of ‘my impact’ and ‘my suppliers’ impact’ has now, thankfully, ended.

In short, we are increasingly accountable for our suppliers’ approaches, policies, and decisions.


  • Scope 1: Emissions / impacts from the assets you own (company facilities / vehicles)
  • Scope 2: Purchased power, heating, cooling for own use
  • Scope 3: Bought goods and services used in product or to do business and downstream use and treatment or produced goods and services 

Procurement just got harder

Over the years, procurement has generally evaluated supplier offers using a balanced scorecard of price and service. Commodity or leverage items swing the pendulum one way; niche or strategic items, the other.

Then sustainability started to make an occasional appearance and, following the introduction of Social Value in 2012, UK public sector tenders in 2021 looked to ensure that 10% of credit was directed to societal value beyond the direct economics. While Social Value guidelines exist, they can be confusing, hard to objectively quantify, and are open to interpretation. Similarly, sustainability covers a wealth of considerations that even the most progressive and well-resourced businesses can only hope to address over time, with the right prioritization.

This third dimension has just made good procurement a whole lot harder – especially when this new parameter has multiple dimensions, few standards, limited data, and a limited track record of best practice examples.


Helping local communities to manage and recover from the impacts of COVID-19, including supporting people back into employment and establishing COVID-19-safe working conditions.


Creating new businesses, jobs, and skills. Increasing supply chain resilience and capacity, with a focus on encouraging innovation and increasing productivity.


Ensuring effective stewardship of the environment by establishing and working towards net zero commitments and influencing environmental protection.


Reducing the disability employment gap through increasing representation and enabling skills development; tackling workforce inequality by supporting in-work progression and identifying and managing modern slavery risks.


Improving health and wellbeing through implementation of established standards. Improving community integration, including through commitments to volunteering and local initiatives.

The Triple Bottom Line

Efficio starts with an interpretation of the Triple Bottom Line. A concept developed by John Elkington in 1994, it values performance against three parameters: not just Profit as convention tells us, but also Planet and People (to neatly give us a memorable alliteration). Triple Bottom Line theory holds that if a firm looks at profit only – ignoring people and the planet – it cannot account for the full cost of doing business.

From this we draw several conclusions:

  1. Sustainability is not (or does not need to be) selfless: The 3 Ps are not mutually exclusive, and the bond between better supporting your people and the environment around us is getting more inextricably linked with profitable and stable business performance
  2. Sustainability is broad: it doesn’t mean the same to everyone and we must prioritize
  3. Sustainability requires a mental shift and a repurposing of our tools, skills, and measures

As we shall see, when thought through well, the Triple Bottom Line can quickly become a commercial plan, a prioritized plan, and an operational plan.

The Triple Bottom Line


  • Diversity and equality 
  • Fair Treatment
  • Ethical labour and governance
  • Health, safety and security
  • Relieving poverty
  • Privacy


  • Replenishing natural resources, ensuring chain of custody 
  • Renewbale energy 
  • Sustainable water and land use
  • Limiting or eliminating emissions and pollution 
  • Limiting or eliminating landfill waste; utilising circular economy


  • Supply security
  • Price stability 
  • Profitable growth and competitive advantage 
  • Efficient processes
  • Perception as positive employer

No time like the present

The rate of new sustainability legislation is accelerating. Each year, we face a matrix of requirements by governing bodies (local, national, and international) impact type (carbon, plastic, water usage, ethical labor, diversity). Many of these requirements – for example, net zero commitment – have long lead-times, and for good reason. This is not to allow a grace period, followed by a period of business planning, ending in a last-minute sprint for the line, but because this is hard. Really hard. Much of the science tells us we are already behind, and, for most organizations, they haven’t even started yet. Other demands can come quickly – especially at a local or national level, such as for packaging.

The takeaway here is that there is first mover advantage in planning and acting early:

  1. There is strong customer and brand value from leading in sustainability 
  2. You avoid being at the back of the queue when the new markets form that will be needed to develop and support more sustainable practices 
  3. You allow your organization time to adjust and adopt new skills and mindsets that will inevitably be needed 

Valuing sustainability

We talked about sustainability being commercially the right thing to do and, as procurement, we need to value improvements. Here too we’d benefit from thinking about value more broadly. Cost Reduction remains the easiest and most quantifiable method, but there are others, including: Product & Margin Development, Brand Value & Customer Requirement, and Financing.


New supply requirements support new cost reduction opportunities to mitigate or off-set sustainability investments. 

Demand challenge, innovation and TCO are critical.

Result = Improved EBIDTA


Customer demand drives new and higher margin product development. They will pay for sustainability.

Customer requirements are changing and accelerating with demographic change. 

Result = Higher margins


Brand strengthened by positive sustainable activity, bringing in new customers, strengthening loyalty, or retaining business within updated requirements.

Tenders are beginning to demand sustainability credentials. 

Result = Increased revenue


Agenda helps to secure better, more favourable investment partners and terms.

Banks and private equity houses are acting on this now. 

Result = Investment Growth

Your first steps

The sustainability landscape is still wide open, so knowing where to start can be difficult. While sustainable procurement now has a standard in ISO20400, it stands as guidance notes and not an accreditation. The UN has 17 sustainable development goals but, again, they are not tailored to procurement and it can be difficult to draw from them the practical, value-adding steps that procurement can and should take.

To provide a sensible structure that allows organizations to start on the sustainability (and sustainable procurement) path, Efficio recommends a 6-step structure.

1. Sustainability Business Plan: define what sustainability means to your business

Organizations can’t do everything at once, so look to understand the key elements of sustainability that mean the most in your geography, to your customers, or to your leadership. Further weight them into prioritised approaches:

2. Translate in Value

Understand what your organization values and will recognize. If cost reduction (or cost maintenance) is still key, rather than some of the value levers mentioned above, look for the win-wins that arise through demand challenge or effective total cost approaches. Innovation is also key here, and empowering procurement teams to think differently and act differently is paramount.

Furthermore, build a procurement pipeline of activity that supports a ‘save to invest’ approach. Drive cost reduction hard, where you can, to off-set areas that maximize sustainability value.

Hermes is making significant commitments and investments in moving toward net zero.

In 2022, we will have 30% electric vehicles in our parcel shops fleet, over 25% of our tractor units will be CNG, and we will continue to focus on delivering impactful carbon emissions reductions across the business year on year.

Not only is procurement facilitating these purchases, but its cost reduction activity allows us to really invest in areas that make the biggest sustainability impact.
Alan Richardson, CFO, Hermes

3. Understand the role of Procurement and Supply Chain

Sustainability is now a board-level topic because it has reached a critical mass of demand. Demand both from within the organization and outside of it, at the macro level and the individual. (See figure opposite.)

Consumer Requirements – End-users more and more place value on the environmentally and socially responsible option. Work with Marketing to promote ESG successes – be open and honest and avoid generics or ‘green-washing’.

Government Regulations  Mandatory requirements are coming thick and fast across ESG parameters. Work closely with Compliance or Sustainability leads to plan.

Financial Institutions – Sustainability scores are already affecting the ease and cost of lending. Work with Finance and Treasury to understand the financing pipeline.

Customer Requirements – Customers are demanding more from suppliers to support their ESG requirements. Work with Sales to understand their barriers to new business.

Business Leadership Targets – Leaders are looking to build brand, credibility, and legacy through Sustainability leadership. Get close to leadership strategies to support the strategic agenda.

Employee Recruitment  New recruits demand competitive salaries and rewarding work, as well as work-life balance and belief in the organization, with strong ESG credentials. Work with HR and People teams to support positive recruitment messaging.

To support this agenda, procurement needs to be better networked and informed than ever before. It needs to understand how marketing will look to message sustainability improvements and what customers are demanding, as well as how HR is driving talent acquisition, and leadership is perceiving value.

4. Baseline and prioritize areas of high impact

This is one of the most daunting and fundamental steps; organizations need to baseline their current positions and then identify ways of quickly and easily ‘moving the needle’. There is a wealth of measurement, assessment, and accreditation organizations to support in this area (which Efficio is happy to sign-post), but much you can do yourself, at least as a first step. Matrix spend against likely sustainability impact (by impact area), and then overlay a sourcing roadmap to see what can be coordinated with sourcing activity and what might be done in other ways, for example Suppliers Relationship Management (SRM). If your priorities are labor-related, then look to the people-led categories like facilities or professional services or recruitment. If carbon-related, then look to buildings, fleet, machinery, and data centers.

5. Incorporate sustainability into category planning

Building a sustainable procurement function does not require extensive restructuring or a new toolset. It will require new thinking, new measures, and new data, but these can be developed and assimilated with planning. Remember the guidance to start early. Efficio talks about sustainability KPIs and total cost approaches but, if nothing else, ask meaningful sustainability questions of your suppliers, and ensure your team is set-up from the start to evaluate sustainability and incorporate it into supplier selection.

6. Implement improvements across the supply chain

The fun part. We need to weave sustainability into the fabric of our specification development, supplier evaluation, reporting, our success recognition, our SRM, and more. Be data-led against the priorities and targets you’ve agreed, and try to step away from the cycle of reactive supply chain compliance reporting into a much more positive narrative. Work closely with suppliers to innovate, find new approaches, and drive real change that positions your organization as a leader.

6 steps to implement your supply chain improvements


  • Select and rank your top 3-5 sustainability themes 
  • Cross-check with business agenda/comms 
  • Is the plan about reporting or progressive change? 


  • Is the business only open to cost-sustainability win-wins?
  • Can other measures of value be considered? 
  • How does sustainability need to be positioned with leadership


  • Can procurement lead this agenda? 
  • Is procurement influential in how spend decisions are made? 
  • What links need to be created with ESG, marketing, operations teams?


  • Baseline your current situation 
  • Based on the previous 3 steps, triage categories against their ability to improve sustainability measures
  • Align to sourcing plans and contract renewals


  • Define realistic targets 
  • Introduce new evaluation criteria and scoring metrics 
  • Ensure team follows Total Cost approach for £ and sustainability (e.g CO2) 
  • Ensure processes for innovation and demand challenge


  • Embed activity into supplier contracts- both reporting requirments and performance KPIs
  • Start early to build supply chain visibility over time, alligned to BAU workload 
  • Simplify the supply base 


Much as we don’t one day decide to lace up a pair of shoes and run a marathon, the sustainability journey requires you to take the first steps, train, learn, and develop. Over time, we will develop the staying power that organizations need to react to changing demands and the ever-growing set of commercial, environmental, and political challenges we face.

Performance Sustainability is ESG Sustainability, and Sustainability is Procurement. As Procurement, let’s embrace this new opportunity to make a difference.

For more information on how we can help your business achieve its sustainability goals, please visit our Sustainability Improvement service page.

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