I attended a day-long conference hosted by the Sustainability Purchasing Network (SPN) this week on Greening Your Organization Through Purchasing. Having studied logistics and supply chain management as a student, I was excited to learn more about the role of sustainability in purchasing.

SPN describes sustainable purchasing as considering:

* What the product is made from and how long it lasts
* The energy, material, and emissions “footprints” associated with its manufacture and transport
* Who has made it, how it’s made, and under what working conditions
* How it will ultimately be disposed of
* Whether the purchase needs to be made at all

What was made very clear by all the presenters, is that purchasers have a tremendous opportunity to help the environment and society. In my opinion, they are one of the most important champions of change in an organization.
If purchasers are informed about eco-alternatives, ethical purchasing policies, factory conditions, carbon offsetting etc. they can affect change by spending their organization’s dollars on products and services that are socially and environmentally responsible. Just like consumers can affect change with their dollars, purchasers for corporate, not-for-profit, academic, government, public sector, labour and co-operative organizations have the power to make a difference with their spending. Local leaders in sustainable purchasing include Vancity, MEC and BC Hydro. I was also pleased to see provincial and municipal government representatives in attendance, signaling to me that local government is looking to green their supply chain. Yahoo!

And what’s even more exciting, is that job opportunities abound within this profession! Even in this recession, there is a skill shortage in the supply chain/logistics industry and with companies looking to be energy efficient and community oriented, people with an awareness of sustainable purchasing will be in high demand! So if you want to work for change, consider a career in purchasing/logistics/supply chain management!

I was also interested to learn about the effects that sustainable purchasing policies and practices had on employees retention and recruitment. One of the speakers, Cathy Rodgers, VP of Global Services from IBM, raved about the improved employee moral and reduced turnover that she witnessed in the supply chain division of IBM, when she implemented sustainable purchasing practices and policies. Employees were united by new goals that included reducing IBM’s waste and carbon footprint. A provincial government representative shared a story about recruiting purchasers. They had updated their usual job advert with the requirement that an applicant has an interest in or knowledge of sustainable purchasing. Not only did they receive 3 times as many applicants, but also much more variety. Usually they only had people with purchasing experience apply, but now they have people with degrees in environmental science applying. They ended up hiring someone with much more experience in the environmental industry than the purchasing profession as they were so attracted to the applicant’s enthusiasm and commitment to sustainability. These are the types of people that will lead the way to a sustainable economy and world! So organizations take note … communicate your sustainability goals and hire for change!