Top 10 Ways to Attract Procurement Professionals to Sustainable Purchasing

I often get calls from people in a wide variety of roles in organizations – executives, sustainability staff, facilities, and even customers – asking me to help them figure out how to get the procurement professionals in their organization interested in sustainability. Below is the advice I usually give them.

(You can find this advice and many more helpful ideas in SPLC’s comprehensive Guidance for Leadership in Sustainable Purchasing. For real-world examples of many of the below ideas, members should listen to the recording of the SPLC Sharing Call on Motivating Sustainable Purchasing.)

  1. Show how sustainable purchasing saves money by eliminating waste, using resources efficiently, etc. It is consistent with their work to responsibly steward the organization’s dollars, not separate from it. (See the Saving Money with Sustainable Purchasing: Making the Business Case thread in SPLC’s member forum for real-world examples.)  
  2. Show how it can enhance the visibility and perceived strategic value of things they are already doing, such as supplier diversity, buying recycled, and so on. (Read how doing this catalyzed Lockheed Martin’s sustainable supply chain work.)   
  3. Connect sustainable purchasing to the organization’s mission. For example, in a municipal procurement context, sustainable purchasing can help create a healthy community and vibrant economy for taxpayers. In a university, it can make for better learning environments, help attract students, and even be an educational opportunity. In a corporation, it can help the company build deeper and stronger relationships with its customers and find innovative solutions in its supply base.  
  4. Show how sustainable purchasing supports management’s existing priorities or mandates. Take your organization’s strategic plan or existing management policies and map the elements of a sustainable purchasing program to those.   
  5. Share how a Sustainable Purchasing Program will help them proactively and strategically target the areas of purchasing with the greatest environmental, social, and economic risks and opportunities. It will put them on a proactive rather than a reactive footing when it comes to social, environmental, and economic risks. (Learn about the overlap between conventional spend analysis and sustainability spend analysis.)  
  6. Allay fears that sustainable purchasing involves re-evaluating the sustainability of every single product, contract, and p-card purchase. Unless stated otherwise, many procurement professionals will assume that is the request. Explain that an effective Sustainable Purchasing Program applies the 80/20 rule, focusing strategically on the 20% of suppliers, products, or contracts that contribute 80% of the organization’s purchasing-related impacts.  
  7. Demonstrate awareness, early and often, of procurement professionals’ workload and the difficulty of satisfying their many customers. Bring them resources that simplify and enhance their work, such as excerpts of SPLC’s Guidance for Leadership in Sustainable Purchasing, training opportunities, and access to knowledgeable peers.  
  8. Present sustainable purchasing as a career advancement opportunity. Purchasing professionals that understand sustainability are increasingly in-demand. (The Chief Procurement Officer of a Fortune 100 company recently told me that he can’t keep his sustainable purchasing program leader position filled because the people he hires “keep getting hired away to be directors somewhere else”. Check SPLC’s newsletter archive for lists of procurement job postings which incorporate sustainability.)  
  9. Make it clear that sustainability doesn’t mean compromising on quality. “New” and “exciting” ideas often present risks for procurement professionals. Take those concerns seriously and address them fully.  
  10. Sustainability can add significant meaning to their work. Let them know they are in one of the most pivotal professions for the realization of a sustainable economy.   

BIG BONUS: Those are some of the ways you can *attract* procurement professionals to take an interest in sustainability voluntarily. If you have the authority, the best way to ensure procurement professionals take sustainability seriously is to make it part of the performance review and bonus program. Procurement professionals tend to be very competitive and excel in places where their work is going to be held up to a measuring stick.


Leave a Reply