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Defining sustainability

The notion of sustainability is tough to define, and the term can be used by different people and organizations to mean different things.


June 21, 2011
by Michael Power

PURCHASINGB2B MAGAZINE: JUNE 2011

The notion of sustainability is tough to define, and the term can be used by different people and organizations to mean different things. But our expert panel was up to the challenge when talking about sustainable procurement during our roundtable event on the topic. Sponsored by Grand & Toy, the roundtable first looked at what it meant for organizations to embrace sustainability in their procurement and supply chain practices. As you’ll notice from the resulting article on page 14, the road to arriving at a working definition was not entirely straight.

But one aspect of the definition process I appreciated especially was the attention paid to the idea that sustainability practices offer benefits to an organization. Rather than strictly a burden—or something organizations take on as corporate social responsibility—sustainability can provide advantages. During the discussion, Tyler Elm of Canadian Tire offered a definition of sustainability as “deriving economic benefits from enhanced environmental and social outcomes”. Rightly, he pointed out that sustainability policies were unlikely to last if the focus remained solely on the environmental benefits. A business case is also needed.

Of course, such practices offer benefits to the environment, but to actually be “sustainable” they must also offer an ROI to the organizations enacting them. Our roundtable listed saving money, improving customer service and supporting creative thinking and innovation as some of the benefits potentially realized from embracing sustainability.

While not absolutely necessary to pushing forward with a sustainability program, our roundtable identified support from an organization’s leadership as an advantage. Hopefully, the list of advantages offered by our panelists will give procurement professionals some ammunition to present to the C-suite if called upon to provide a list of sustainability’s advantages.

On another note, Purchasingb2b has some news of its own: We’ve joined the Business Information Group (BIG) at Glacier Media. Glacier is Canada’s largest publisher of specialized business information. The organization publishes more than 90 magazines and directories, over 25 websites and 22 email newsletters.

What’s also positive is we at Purchasingb2b—along with our sister magazine MM&D—will continue providing timely, relevant and helpful information in the same format as always—both in print and online.