Several recent developments suggest that sustainable procurement is about to become a more significant priority for business and procurement leaders. In August of last year, for example, the Business Roundtable – a non-profit association whose members are the CEOs of major U.S. companies – captured widespread public attention when it released a new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.

In earlier statements, the Business Roundtable had asserted that the primary purpose of a corporation is to serve its shareholders. The 2019 statement changes direction rather dramatically and states that corporations must serve the interests of a broader set of stakeholders, including “communities.”

The new statement reads in part:

“We commit to: . . . Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.”

Earlier this year, BlackRock – the world’s largest money manager with over $7 trillion of assets under management – announced that it is overhauling its investment strategy to make sustainability a major criterion for evaluating potential investments. In its January letter to clients, BlackRock’s global executive committee wrote:

“Because sustainable investment options have the potential to offer clients better outcomes, we are making sustainability integral to the way BlackRock manages risk, constructs portfolios, designs products and engages with companies. We believe that sustainability should be our new standard for investing.”

BlackRock isn’t the only investor focused on sustainability. Both institutional and individual investors are increasingly interested in “ESG” (environmental-social-governance) investing. A 2019 research report by Morningstar stated that in 2018, there were 351 “sustainable” funds available to U.S. investors, up from 235 such funds in 2017. This report also found that 2018 was the third consecutive year that sustainable funds received record cash inflows.

Impact of Sustainable Procurement

Company leaders are bound to take notice when investors begin making their investment decisions based on sustainability factors. So we are likely to see many companies intensify their efforts to conduct business operations in a more sustainable way.

The growing focus on sustainability will impact companies of all sizes. That’s because business leaders recognize that the environmental reputation of their company is strongly affected by the environmental practices of their suppliers. Recent research by McKinsey & Company found that the typical CPG company’s supply chain accounts for more than 80% of total greenhouse emissions and more than 90% of the total environmental impact on air, land, water, biodiversity and geological resources.

The bottom line is, it’s nearly impossible for a company to build a winning record for environmental sustainability unless it works with suppliers that also use sound environmental practices. Therefore, it’s likely that many companies will be making sustainable procurement a more important strategic priority.

Applying Sustainable Procurement to Print

Print and marketing services procurement is the primary focus of my company’s business, and the good news is, it’s relatively easy to apply sustainable procurement to the acquisition of printed materials. There are several independent organizations that provide certifications for firms operating in the printing industry. Sourcing professionals can use these certifications when choosing among competing suppliers, or they can require companies to possess one or more of these certifications to qualify as an approved supplier.

There are four widely used environmental certifications available to printing firms, below is a brief description of each.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)  The Forest Stewardship Council provides two types of certifications – Forest Management and Chain-of-Custody. The Forest Management certification confirms that a specific area of forest is being managed in an environmentally sustainable manner. The Chain-of-Custody certification traces the path of products from forests through the supply chain. In the case of printed materials, the Chain-of-Custody certification means that the products were printed on paper that was produced from FSC-certified forests.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)  SFI has a Chain-of-Custody Standard that is similar to FSC’s. It is a system for tracking forest fiber content through production and manufacturing to end products.

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) – PEFC is a global alliance of national forest certification systems. It provides a Chain of Custody certification that is similar to those offered by FSC and SFI.

Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) – The certification provided by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership is significantly broader than the chain-of-custody certifications provided by FSC, SFI and PEFC. The standards used in the SGP certification process cover practices relating to energy and other resource consumption, waste reduction and greenhouse emissions, among others. Therefore, SGP certification indicates that a printing company is using a range of business practices that support environmental sustainability.

It’s clear that public opinion about climate change and environmental sustainability has changed significantly over the past several years. There is a growing perception that climate change is real and it appears that many business leaders now believe it is in their best interest to step up their efforts on sustainability. That’s why sustainable procurement is about to become an even bigger deal.