Corporate Social Responsibility

by Becky Toal and Veronica Broomes

Procurement and product stewardship

Companies with a policy on sustainable procurement are able to factor environmental and social considerations into their buying decisions and not be driven by price alone. Taking a sustainable approach to procurement can result in companies making savings from environmental and social choices. For example, a organisation that may be ordering stationery from a national provider who is prepared to deliver free of cost could consider reducing the frequency of ordering products. This would result in fewer delivery journeys and therefore lower carbon emissions. Alternatively, by selecting a local supplier instead of a national one, the organisation would be contributing to saving local jobs, which would have a positive impact on the community in which it was located.

Product stewardship is about a business understanding the positive and negative impacts of its core products and services. It uses techniques such as life-cycle analysis and carbon foot-printing to assess impact. Analysis of the impact can lead to product changes. For example, businesses that manufacture products would consider product redesign to include things like higher recycled content, packaging optimisation and lower energy consumption during manufacture.

To assist consumers in their buying decisions, businesses could have their products certified to widely-recognised product labelling schemes. Such labelling schemes include the Carbon Trust’s ‘carbon label’, the EU eco-label, Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Fair Trade Foundation.

The Eco-flower label, seen here, is used in Europe and is endorsed by the European Commission and all EU member states. The label is awarded only to goods and services which meet strict criteria to minimise the impact of a product on the environment over its whole life cycle, including disposal. Two examples of eco-labelled products are plant-growing media that do not contain peat and eco-labelled tissue paper that uses only recycled fibres or virgin fibres from trees harvested from sustainably-managed forests. For a product to be assigned the eco-label, it must be independently certified. The eco-flower label covers all product groups, from electrical goods to paints, and from cleaning products to mattresses.

The UK market for products and services that take social, ethical and environmental consumer concerns into account was worth £29 billion during 2006 according to the Co-operative Bank’s Ethical Consumer Report.

Things any manager can do

Consider which products your organisation produces and/or buys in for its own consumption. Labelling products according to social and environmental criteria provides a direct way to translate these concerns into positive actions and to promote social and environmental progress by encouraging change in the behaviour of consumers. Labels also create new and premium markets for producers and retailers by allowing choice for responsible consumers.

  • Which of your products contain environmental and social labels?
  • Which products do you currently procure for the business that carry such labels?
  • Discuss with your procurement department the development of policies or guidelines on sustainable procurement. This can then be circulated to staff, so everyone will be aware of what can be done to make more sustainable buying choices.
  • If holding an event for staff or clients:
  • Use ethically sourced products
  • Choose venues that are well connected to public transport
  • Promote the use of recyclable or reusable utensils, crockery and cutlery.