The evolving dialogues on sustainable procurement

“Procurement is the guardian of global sustainability.”- Thomas Udesen, Chief Procurement Officer at Bayer; Co-Founder, Sustainable Procurement Pledge

Thomas Udesen

Thomas leads the dynamic Procurement function at Bayer, the global Life Science company. “Health for all, hunger for none" is Bayer’s vision and the guiding principle for Thomas and his leadership team. Sustainability is a matter close to Thomas’ heart, inspiring and driving him way beyond his Bayer duties. With the Sustainable Procurement Pledge #SPP, Thomas Co-Founded this bottom-up grass-root initiative together with Bertrand Conqueret. #SPP strives to activate 1 million SPP Ambassadors around the globe to drive a much needed change towards responsible behavior and sustainable decision-making across all supply chains.

Gone are the days when sustainability was the last to make it to the boardroom. Today, sustainability is seen as fundamental to corporate vision and an important spoke for robust business continuity plans in case of crisis. While several companies have made concerted efforts to embrace sustainable practices org-wide, a few factors could still deter businesses from amping up their sustainability game and going full throttle behind it.

Huge investment requirements in adhering to sustainable practices, for example, could impede leaders and companies overall. As companies increasingly become conscious of their carbon footprint, sustainable purchases are making a beeline in corporate strategies and supply chain management. But when procurement teams are under pressure to opt for suppliers offering lower prices, sustainability takes a back seat and savings become the focal point. In a recent interview with Infosys BPM, as part of the Procurement Confluence meet, Thomas Udesen, Chief Procurement Officer at Bayer and Co-Founder of the Sustainable Procurement Pledge, spoke about the current dilemmas around procurement and how they can leverage their knowledge to empower sustainable practices in the function.

Discussing the detriments

Undoubtedly, the conversation around sustainable procurement has progressed. In a study about national legislative support, the majority of companies felt that a lack of support from the government and its policies, would continue to hamper the sustainable intentions of companies, and in fact, increase the operational costs of projects. Strategic investments could work wonders here, as the transition to a new process, or upgrading an existing one, often involves significant expenditure.  

We are yet to see large-scale government support in this arena. Though there are good initiatives, some of them well-known and helping our community in showcasing what is possible, I would say most organizations are still falling behind,” Udesen said. While over 15,000 organizations signed the UN Global Compact principles – ten universal guiding principles for companies to make responsible choices – the commitments are yet to be accomplished, he added.

The way out

Over the years, the discussion on sustainability has managed to pervade across organizations. But the progress has been limited to the theoretical discussion. To achieve a thorough execution of these discussions and decisions, Udesen says, collaboration is key. “Individually taking on too much work is not tenable. The solution? Join an industry collaboration.” 

“11 years ago, we co-founded two organizations, one in the chemicals industry and the other in the pharmaceutical supply chain space, to promote sustainability. Due to a collaborative effort, both the organizations have grown in size and importance since their inception, driving the cause of sustainability,” Udesen said.

The motto of sustainability is driven by Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors. Although the ‘environmental’ aspect is much talked about, the ‘social’ and ‘governance’ aspects need some thrashing out. Dividing these factors into smaller chapters, and segregating them based on industry, country, or goals, can encourage people from similar backgrounds to come together for collaboration, Udesen opined.

About Sustainable Procurement Pledge (SPP)

Udesen co-founded Sustainable Procurement Pledge, a global nonprofit organization in 2019. It promotes the understanding of ethical sourcing practices amongst procurement professionals, Procurement outsourcing service providers, academicians, and practitioners.

We pledged to capture the five principles – standing up for people and our planet, together we will change the world, starting with myself sharing my knowledge, and listening to others and leaving the right legacy – that we think are essential for procurement professionals, and today we are armed with a diverse set of ambassadors. We have around 8,000 ambassadors from 142 countries now.

In-depth discussions, by way of a forum, have ignited inspiring dialogues that further highlight the gaps in the procurement community, with the perspective of improvement and evolution.

Sustainability is no longer about volunteering to bring a change. Taking ownership is the need of the hour and it is time to leverage the knowledge of seasoned professionals and put in a collaborative approach to fulfil our dream of a better tomorrow.