Corporate Sustainability: Insights and a Purchasing Guide

Corporate Sustainability – Greening the Bottom Line: A Corporate Purchasing Guide for Environmental and Business Synergy

By Jordan McDowell

There’s no longer any doubt that the climate is changing. The only question now is what are we going to do about it? As individuals, we can make changes in the way we live, but impactful change is down to organizations reforming established behaviors. Corporations especially have a tremendous opportunity in creating a synergy between the environment’s needs and their business practices, changing the game for the future.

Synergy simply means “working together”. When you create a corporate culture focused on environmentally supportive purchasing and practices, your organization is working with the environment, participating in a new paradigm for the business community. Let’s examine how to green the bottom line with this corporate purchasing guide and how environmentalist leadership in business makes a tremendous impact.

See Also: The Role of HR in Corporate Sustainability: A Complete Guide

The “Triple P” Bottom Line: People, Planet, Profit

Your corporate culture is where greening the bottom line starts. The first step in the process of making your corporation more sustainable is getting your employees on board. While this doesn’t represent a wholesale rebranding effort, it certainly means enshrining sustainability in a tangible way, starting with your mission. Bring your team together to update your mission statement as a means of educating them, getting buy-in for the project, and generating excitement about the positive changes to come. Then, wonder at the riches of your employees’ individual experiences and knowledge. With their input, your success is assured.

The foundation of any greening effort is in the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. Without profit, there is no business. Neither is there a business without people. As for the planet, it’s our home. The greening of your enterprise starts with people, so choose leaders from your operation’s various departments who are educated about sustainability and highly motivated to make it happen.

This team of people is your sustainability powerhouse, but everyone on the team can be part of the change you’re making. Invite input and ideas. Draw on the collective wisdom of your employees, working from a framework with plenty of space for the knowledge that’s at your disposal. Going to your people with a pre-packaged sustainability project from the C-Suite won’t get the buy-in you desire. Build the project with your employees, exploiting their fresh ideas and approaches. Engaged, passionate people create magic and the synergy you’re seeking.

Corporate Sustainability

Procurement (Purchasing) Matters

Taking an honest look at your suppliers and supply chains is of tremendous importance to any corporate greening effort. Attention to detail is key to unearthing truths about supply chains that, in larger corporations, can be so huge as to preclude transparency. And that’s a problem. When hundreds of thousands of suppliers are in the chain, how can you keep track? How can you even know who they are?

The shorter your chains are, the more control you have over staying true to the mission of sustainability. You can write the most powerful mission statement in the world, but if you don’t know about the labor practices, industrial processes, sub-contractors, and materials in play, you can’t meet your sustainability goals. The dark corners of your supply chain must be explored in order to “green” it to the fullest extent possible.

Consumers want to know that you’re green down to the roots and those roots must be trimmed to make them transparent and aligned with your mission. The shorter the chain, the less administration is required, and that starts in procurement. Your procurement department is a pivotal component of the team of leaders we just talked about. What is being purchased, from whom, and for what purpose? Could you purchase that widget closer to home? Could you purchase from a supplier with a better labor rights track record and a more environmentally friendly approach to industrial processes and materials? Answer those questions, then act decisively to reform errant links in the chain.

Your supply chain can help you or hurt you. While it’s a project all on its own, knowing what’s going on in your supply chain is entirely necessary if sustainability is your goal. You will not achieve that goal without total supply chain transparency.

The Building Blocks of a Sustainable Business

Setting up a policy on sustainability is a process in itself. Before systematically examining procurement and the supply chains created by it, the primary building blocks of a sustainable business are purchases related to employee hygiene, like cleaning supplies, hand towels, toilet paper, and soap

Start at this nexus of business and the environment to initiate synergy. Hygiene items get the ball rolling as they meet the human needs of everyone in your operation. Hygiene procurement is an object lesson in balancing human needs with those of the planet, creating a key learning opportunity for employees. From here, other items are layered on until procurement has been reformed to the highest degree possible.

As you move forward, examining the suppliers and the processes involved in fulfillment – including the mileage required for delivery – you’ll find that tightening your supply chain offers efficiencies and savings that have never been exploited. 

Locally and regionally focused, the goal is to source suppliers nearby to reduce fuel usage by transportation contractors and to improve the price, quality, and environmental profile of the item being supplied. Can you buy hand towels, soap, and toilet paper from the same supplier? How are these products produced? How do they move you toward your sustainability goals?

The integration of disparate suppliers to eliminate extraneous links in the chain doesn’t just reduce fuel and product costs. It decreases opacity in the supply chain, which can potentially expose your corporation to public relations contingencies. With a transparent supply chain, your mission is strengthened by your direct and intentional action. Bonus points if the environmentally conscious cleaning supplies your business needs derive from the same source as your other hygiene needs.

Measuring Sustainability

Corporate Sustainability

A good place to start measuring your organization’s sustainability and the progress being made toward it is the UN Sustainable Development Goals, part of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. This wide-reaching, 17-part set of guidelines provides a working framework for businesses pursuing improved sustainability.

Hitachi is just one global business applying SDG’s to its sustainability efforts. And in the process, their business is not only doing transformative good in the world, but it’s also branching out into new markets. Hitachi’s efforts in the realm of water desalination and sewage treatment provide safe water for up to 70 million people. The company’s goals include an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions, coupled with a commitment to a 50% improvement in water and resource usage by 2050. These corporate goals align with the stated goals of the UN, creating a synergy that drives change in all sectors, especially contributing to the shift to renewable energy and a more mindful approach to water use.

Measure your progress toward goals, not by the success of companies like Hitachi, but by the SMART methodology, namely – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. A critical path should be created and managed by a team member assigned as manager, with results to be recorded, shared, and analyzed on a quarterly basis. Your Key Performance Indicators for this aspect of the project are:

  • Overall carbon footprint
  • Water usage
  • Rate of recycling (product and other recyclables)
  • Rate of waste reduction
  • Mileage in the supply chain (fuel, infrastructure)

Only a small number of companies meet their stated sustainability goals. And while almost 90% of companies have a clear mission statement in that respect, only 52% of that number have taken any clear action toward reforming their practices. That’s because they’re not measuring progress. This is a crucial component of producing the environmental-business synergy. Data tells a story, providing evidence of benchmarks reached (and those fallen short of). 

Only when you know where you are can you move toward where you want to be! And don’t forget that to receive environmental business accreditations that speak to your market, it’s necessary that you demonstrate sustainable practices. Choose a digital solution to keep you on track with the sustainability goals you’ve set, empowering your people to help the planet, while greening the bottom line. 

Intentional Community Action

Be on the lookout for local efforts to make your community more sustainable. Sponsorships and employee participation reinforce the importance of synergizing the environment with your business, undergirding your efforts with intentional community action. Joining with other concerned businesses engaged in community outreach builds not only your standing as an environmentally conscious enterprise, but brings your mission to the greater business community, and to all local people.

Planting trees, volunteering, or joining with other local enterprises to create events that highlight local environmental concerns connect you to the people who buy your products. They need to know that you’re putting your shoulder to the wheel. 

It’s at the community level that all global action begins, so be present for local environmental concerns and community actions. As your sustainability project bears fruit, your market will come to trust you as a serious friend of the environment.

Corporate Sustainability: The Future Starts Now

The health of the earth is our own health. To safeguard it for those who come after us, the future starts now. There is no need more urgent than this. Committing to sustainability at the corporate level is an act of leadership that signals your company’s membership in the growing global corps of environmentally responsible businesses. There is tremendous power in your commitment. Your engagement with sustainability encourages others to engage, creating meaningful change that serves the future.

Greening the bottom line is an involved but necessary part of doing business in the 21st Century. You can address its challenges to benefit people, the planet, and your profit in measurable ways. The future starts now. It’s time to act.

About the Author

Jordan McDowell is a writer and content strategist. He specializes in manufacturing and often covers workplace safety, but also enjoys writing about the automotive industry and the great outdoors.

See more of his writing at