Greening The Office, A Quick Guide to Sustainable Procurement

When it comes to purchasing products and services, we are all customers. Whether it is a business to business, or a business to customer purchase, our custom should be valued. If you live in North America, you’ll be accustomed to the phrase ‘the customer is always right’. Unfortunately, here in the UK, this phrase does not hold much value. As customers, we follow what a business will tell us we need instead of us demanding what we need. Packaging waste is a classic example. When we receive our products, they are enshrined in packaging. We look at the parcel and ask ourselves, did it need to arrive in so much packaging? The thought remains with most of us, but it is not fed back to the business. Why not? As a customer, we are in a strong position to influence change in how businesses operate. The small changes we make to everyday purchases are just as important to a sustainable future as the large changes being led by legislation and collective public pressure.

This week, I engaged in discussions about how small businesses can be more sustainable in their procurement. Whilst most large organisations will have sustainable procurement policies to which their suppliers and internal departments should adhere to, small businesses are not sure how to go about it. So here’s a quick guide of how to be more sustainable and less wasteful in the office. Whether you work in an office with 100 people or it’s just you running your own business, with the right measures in place, you should see a reduction in unwanted supplies taking over office space and benefit from cost savings both in terms of reduced purchases and waste disposal.

1. Before you can start the improvement process, it is vital you understand which areas are wasteful or inefficient. For example, carry out an audit of your supply cupboards. People often find that they order products without checking what they already have in stock. If you have several cupboards around the offices stashing away office supplies, check them all before placing the next order.

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2. Keep an up to date inventory of office supplies.  Include everyday kitchen and cleaning supplies such as tea, sugar, coffee, sponges, washing liquids etc. Most businesses will keep an inventory of their factory and warehouse materials but tend to forget office spaces. Create a simple spreadsheet with the titles of the information you want to capture. This could include: name of product, supplier, date of order, quantity ordered, cost, and requested by. By maintaining an up to date spreadsheet, you will start to see the products that are being ordered frequently. This will enable you to investigate further as to why a product is ordered so often and if you actually need it.

3. When ordering products, do you consider their environmental impacts? Have you ever looked past the image to see where the product is made, what material it’s made from, does it carry certification logos, for example, is the printer paper from sustainable sources, is it recyclable or refillable? When you start to pay attention to the finer details on the products, you suddenly start to make sound environmental choices. If the information is not there, ask the supplier.  Most suppliers, including small scale will be happy to share this information with you, unless they have something to hide.

4. When selecting a supplier, have a look on their website or ask them questions about their environmental policies. Large organisations will have an environmental or sustainability policy and reports in place. Their reports should outline their commitments and achievements to date.  Office Depot, for example, have published their Sustainability Report 2018. Amongst various metrics, Office Depot, have published the success of the take back scheme set up to close loop recycling of various items. As a customer, there is no reason why we cannot start a dialogue for the take back scheme to include additional waste streams such as plastic packaging waste.

If you are dealing with small scale businesses whose primary concern is profit, start engaging with them by asking them what they are doing or plan to do. Large or small, no business wants to lose a customer, but if they’re not willing to listen, I’m sure their competitor will.

5. Have you considered setting an improvement target for office products? My favourite method of reducing anything, whether it is waste, energy, fuel or even my personal shopping bill, is setting a target. Most large organisations will set up key performance indicators (KPIs) which they then report on an annual basis and set improvement targets for the following year. There is no reason why a small business should not follow the same practice.

Setting improvement targets is a good way to get the office in order. For example, if you are looking to reduce the amount of paper in the office, when you carry out an audit and start to establish an inventory spreadsheet, you will know how much paper you are using and how much it is costing. You can then decide to set a reduction target, monitor and record your consumption on a quarterly basis and then set up a further target in the following year. This can be done for virtually every product you purchase.

6. Finally, I started this blog by asking if we communicate our thoughts to our suppliers or do they just remain buried in our minds? Most of us are guilty of not passing feedback to our suppliers when it comes to packaging waste or asking about the carbon footprint of a product. We should engage with our suppliers on a more regular basis. Communication as most will tell you, is key to a successful business, hence the rise of social media influencers. We need our thoughts to transcend. Communicate those thoughts with suppliers. If we don’t tell them what we need or don’t need, how will they know?

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