Procurement Driving Sustainability – The Sustainable Procurement Pledge

Thomas Udesen Sustainable Procurement Pledge

Thomas Udesen has established himself as a leading light of the procurement world. As CPO of Bayer with an overall spend responsibility in the region of €24 billion alongside co-founding the Sustainable Procurement Pledge with Henkel CPO Bertrand Conqueret, Thomas could be forgiven for using the excuse ‘lack of time’. However, Thomas is both generous with his time and opinions concerning the important role procurement can play in driving sustainability.

For businesses to achieve their sustainability goals it is imperative that procurement has a seat at the table. For society to create a more sustainable future it is vital that we share our experiences and opinions. The Sustainable Procurement Pledge is striving to create this and we are delighted to have Thomas’s input.

Thomas, you co-founded ‘The Sustainable Procurement Pledge’ and officially launched in 2019. How and why did you develop the pledge?

SPP was inspired by the “Global Climate Strike” in September 2019, an event where people from all walks of life took to the streets to drive action to minimize the devastating impacts of climate change. I posted a comment on LinkedIn reminding my network about our single biggest responsibility; taking care of our joint home and making sure that future generations can enjoy a healthy and prosperous life. The response was overwhelming, and this is when I reached out to Bertrand Conqueret on the next day, a Saturday morning, and the idea of #SPP a personal professional pledge was born.

The reason is quite simple, we firmly believe that Procurement professionals across the world are sitting on an incredible power to drive positive change. The world economy is transacted between sellers and buyers. Our network of 1 million Procurement professionals are deciding every day how business is conducted and who gets which contracts. By ensuring that we all make sustainability an integral part of these decisions, we can create positive pressure and ultimately change how business is conducted across all supply chains.

SSP has grown significantly in the space of 12 months, it now has over 2200 ambassadors. Can you provide an insight into the role of an ambassador and how your ‘pro bono’ community has been able to effectively spread the word?

The message of SPP resonates with most people who are familiar with Procurement and recognize the incredible potential that the function holds. We are proud that the Ambassadors count people from academia, Professors, students, Procurement practitioners, Senior Procurement Leaders, NGO’s, consultants and CEO’s. Most industries are represented, and we have a geographical diversity covering all continents. SPP Ambassadors are standing up for the principles of the United Nations Global Compact, they want to ensure that the UN SDG’s are achieved by 2030. In addition, Ambassadors make a personal stand and agree to the 5 SPP principles;

  1. Ambassadors stand up for People and our Planet,
  2. Ambassadors believe that we will change the world together,
  3. Ambassadors accept that they must start with themselves.
  4. Ambassadors commit to sharing knowledge and listening to others.
  5. Ambassadors aim to leave the right legacy of Procurement

The conviction and of our community mean that our SPP Ambassadors are taking an active role in spreading the message and driving a positive impact within their own professional and personal network. Our belief is that everybody can have a positive impact and that everybody is important to drive this important, necessary and urgent change.

SPP Celebrating it’s 1st Anniversary

Your community is global with the majority being procurement and supply chain specialists. However, the ambassador role is not just limited to professionals directly working in this function. Have you seen a significant uptake from non-procurement professionals and is spreading the word amongst all stakeholders a major hurdle to achieving sustainability goals?

Indeed, we are thankful that the message of SPP also travels beyond Procurement and Supply Chain associates. We enjoy many Ambassadors who are active with various NGO’s, we have CEO’s, company owners, recruitment consultants and many people who simply believe in the mission of SPP. They all have a super important role in helping strengthen the dialogue, improving knowledge and spreading the word within their communities.

Your procurement career is extensive, over time you have seen the evolution of the function and how it is perceived, from the ‘spend police and protector of budgets’ to the ‘business enabler, innovator and value creator’.  What in your opinion have been the primary causes for this evolution?

Most businesses are disrupted by digitalization, meaning that new business models are spreading across industries. Collaboration with external partners is critical in these new models and most companies recognize that Procurement is best positioned to nurture such relationships. In parallel, technology providers have come a long way in automating Procurement processes. This has allowed the function to digitalize transactions, leverage marketplaces, focus on Business Partnering and drive transformational value across the most important Categories – often with less resources. I believe that we have now entered a new age of Sustainable Innovation (or Sustainovation) and I have zero doubt that Procurement must take a leading role in transforming their own companies, in addition to the work in changing their inbound supply chains.

Click to read Kraft Heinz CPO Marcos Eloi discussing their procurement upgrade plans

What generic barriers would you suggest a typical procurement function faces at present? Where do you believe the main challenges lay in the near future?

I believe we still have Procurement leaders and practitioners who underappreciate the criticality of Sustainable Procurement. Many of these practitioners struggle to reimagine our function and they tend to be stuck in their “old ways”. Their motivations can vary, but these professionals tend to operate with a few incorrect dogmas;

  1. Sustainability cost money.
  2. My Board of Management does not want to support this.
  3. Our people are too busy, and we have no resources.

Our practical experience is the exact opposite, but it requires an open mind, it requires that you re-think old business models and that you are prepared to optimize beyond the traditional variables like price, quality, and time.

The Sustainable Procurement Pledge is a brilliant concept that is mobilising an ever-growing community. If you were presenting a sales pitch to entice new ambassadors what would be the key message? 

There is nothing more important than a sustainable future for our planet, our people and the biodiversity that we all depend on. Procurement is, by far, best positioned to change how business is conducted so that we can also ensure economic prosperity for future generations. We don’t have all the answers yet, but the SPP Ambassador community is resourced and committed to collaborating and finding the right answers. We are the ones who make the deals that represent the backbone of our global economy. This group has an incredible power and we have decided to make our knowledge available for free, so that YOU can also use your power for good.

Your growth has been fantastic in such a short time. What is the overall ambition for yourself and SPP?

Our ambition is to ensure that the UN SDG’s are delivered by 2030. That we prevent the disastrous impacts that would follow if we fail to minimize global warming. We believe that Procurement will change the course of mankind by ensuring that all supply chains have sustainable procurement practices by 2030. Our strategy is to empower and equip the 1 million Procurement professionals that decide, every day, who gets business and who doesn’t. By ensuring that all Procurement professionals include sustainable criteria into their decision matrix, we will transform the world and make sure that our ambition is met by 2030.

Sign up and become an SPP ambassador HERE!