Sustainability is a consistent undercurrent in a whole range of media at the moment; in the news, in opinion pieces, on the TV, we are confronted with a whole range of ideas and concepts, many being made a lot more strongly than has been the case for a number of years. The Swedish evangelist, Greta Thunberg, has raised a crucial question: if the issues are as serious as science is saying, why is nothing happening?
The magnitude of the challenge is huge, requiring dramatic changes in the behaviour of whole populations. A simple example here is the annual commemoration (in the UK) of an infamous attempt to destroy parliament in 1605. For those who are unaware, this is an outdoor event, involving large local bonfires plus the use of as many fireworks as is possible. Recent figures suggest around £40M is spent on fireworks, which are pretty much the definition of a non sustainable product. They are single use, create fire and smoke, undoubtedly have a CO2 impact and cause a range of injury and fright amongst animals and people. Fireworks are also the largest manufactured source of some metallic particles in the atmosphere. Not to mention the bonfires. Still, good fun, even in a climate which means being cold and wet is a significant risk for participants.
With a sustainability hat on, what does a revised version of this celebration look like? It speaks of a change management effort of considerable magnitude, social engineering which will need to start now to effect a change in, say, 10 years, perhaps a change in expectations and approach. However, if we are truly serious, these are all things that we are going to have to consider.
This all sounds unlikely - there is no evident discussion or immediate drive to challenge the evident issues in firework displays, especially where there are other targets to aim at. However, it is clear that there is a real need to address sustainability across the board, this is the type of issue or challenge will need to be taken on.
Moving back into the world of procurement, we can see that the rising tide of sustainability will have an input into category strategies in a wide range of areas. The challenge is that the changes we will be needing to look for are of the same order of difficulty as moving people away from fireworks. Our approach here is most likely to be looking at our business requirements, and looking at how a firm focus on sustainability will affect those requirements, and what the changes will mean for strategies.
Finding new approaches is likely to involve a thorough work through the value levers to make sure that we’re accessing any possible opportunities which may exist. The likelihood is that a number of strategies are going to need serious innovation to address the sustainability agenda appropriately, and we may have to look at developing multi stage strategies, which seek to stabilise , develop and then improve as investment cycles are needed to deliver the innovations required.
So, on this Bonfire Night, as we again celebrate a failed effort to overturn a democratic institution, we might look to the skies and, amid the explosions, consider how we tackle large scale change.
by Mark Hubbard