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Sustainable Sourcing: The frontier for green innovation


24-Nov-11 16:40

An email came this week from a company talking about an innovative box it had developed and it got me thinking – is discreet innovation like this ultimately going to be the game-changer in business’ quest for sustainable sourcing?

 

On the face of it, no. The drive from the business, the ability to structure and recruit a team with a greater green focus and the willingness to change relationships with tier 1 and 2 suppliers to push for more sustainable alternatives – these are huge factors.

 

But there’s an undeniable buzz around harvesting innovative ideas, even from deeper in the supply chain.

 

Certainly Unilever and Procter & Gamble are two examples of companies that are competing at the top of their industries and who have both spoken recently at Procurement Leaders Forums about the investment they’ve put into working with suppliers on generating ideas that could help both parties be more sustainable. Whoever is more successful at that, it would seem they believe, will have an advantage over the other.

 

What they’re after though, isn’t just about, say, palm oil, though those initiatives deserve a lot of the headlines they receive. It’s about a accumulation of simple ideas that can be applied across parts of the supply chain or even in-house. One that Rick Hughes, CPO of P&G, gave as an example was a material that a supplier had to hydrate in order to transport, only for P&G to have to go through a drying process at the other end. The savings potential from these sorts of activities, when you add them up is huge, as is the contribution to green measures - say, cutting emissions.

 

So back to the box – the Boomerang box developed by Grand & Toy, in fact – designed for minimising storage space, frequent reuse, recyclability and shipping tracking. While it might sound like a product plug (honestly, just an email I received), what appeals here is the thought that if a business is able to connect with this kind of idea, it opens the door to all kinds of benefits.

 

Now it may be the sort of idea that only appeals to a few or it may be the sort of thing that many companies do very well already thank you very much, but it strikes me that businesses that are able to maintain that balance of open mind and structured thinking when it comes to innovative ideas, no matter what size or how deep in the supply chain, are those that are really on the frontier of sustainable procurement.

 

In that respect, these kinds of ideas are more than a box or a type of tyre or a computer programme – they’re a challenge to businesses because they’re difficult to capture, assess and implement on any meaningful scale. But they can make a difference, wherever the idea comes from, if they can be harnessed.


Steve Hall Steve Hall is Editor at Procurement Leaders. Steve oversees the publication of Procurement Leaders Magazine and draws on a decade in business publishing, providing quality coverage to senior business leaders. Follow Steve on Twitter: @thestephenhall

 
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