I was delighted to be able to take my place at Andy Burnham’s landmark Manchester Green Summit on 21 March.

The event brought together businesses, environmental experts, interest groups, partner agencies, academics and local people to accelerate Greater Manchester’s green ambitions. It’s a topic I feel strongly about personally, but it’s also vital for business and procurement to embrace it.

I couldn’t help being struck that in a packed agenda on carbon reduction, at a venue within a few miles of Manchester Airport, air travel was barely mentioned.

Given that Manchester Airport is Greater Manchester’s largest business rates payer and as major shareholders the dividends from its profits put tens of millions of pounds into the combined authority’s coffers, a cynic might mix metaphors about not biting the hand that feeds and elephants in the room. But it serves as a reminder of the need for sustainability to be balanced with commercial advantage.

It caused me to stop and think. There’s a powerful reality here that it is difficult to avoid air travel. There isn’t yet a commercially viable alternative. Technology does not yet allow us to meet virtually with the same level of interaction as happens in person – making travel necessary for key business meetings. Time taken and costs just don’t stack up for alternative methods of travel.

But green, or sustainable business, doesn’t have to wait. It’s far from impossible

It’s a discussion I frequently have with clients when I ask ‘but what about your commitment as a socially aware organisation?’ and am met with blank looks. The CSR agenda is more than a policy or pages in a website – it can be commercially advantageous. It requires a challenge to think differently about business goals:

  • Improve Profitability with Cost Savings
  • Create or capitalise on Competitive Advantage
  • Mitigate Risk
  • Retain and Attract customers and top talent

Procurement must embrace the opportunity to be a force for good.  By raising the bar for your own suppliers, it means that they will in turn have to raise the bar for theirs. By insisting on sustainable practices from suppliers it will create a virtuous circle – extending ‘green’ along the supply chain.

For us to reduce our reliance on air travel – or indeed any activity that harms the environment or our society – it has to be to our commercial advantage.

There is a common misconception that ‘green’ comes with a premium price attached and, given the state of the economy, companies hesitate to commit to a sustainable procurement strategy. However, playing a leading role in resource waste reduction saves money and leads to improved efficiencies.

Long-term sustainable strategies can help make greater savings and forecast future cost more accurately. Forcing ourselves to ‘think sustainably’ can drive innovation and establish new savings – or even create added value.

In addition to cost benefits, many customers now expect businesses to act responsibly and look after the environment. Being able to demonstrate not only a CSR agenda on the company website, but a commitment to the environment that delivers results enhances an organisation’s reputation in the market.

Being green, behaving sustainably and delivering on the promise isn’t easy. But it’s worthwhile and the commitment drives positive change.