What is responsible sourcing?
Responsible sourcing is no alien term to the multinational corporations (MNCs) and the bigger SME (small and medium-sized enterprise); it has to some companies, long become a part of business operations.
Sourcing materials responsibly merely imply you get the materials you need, grown, cultivated, manufactured or produced in a responsible (ethical, environmentally friendly) way and paying what is considered fair.
More and more companies are learning about this concept of sourcing for things they need.
It is a way that helps make their sourcing and business functions more ethical, helps promote environmental awareness within the organisations and to their supply chain, and also often helps comply with increasingly stricter (stringent) government regulations.
Some slight misunderstandings of responsible sourcing
There are perhaps some out there who do not yet have a very good understanding of responsible sourcing.
Responsible sourcing is not just about paying the right price for materials or supplies you need; that is probably just one aspect of it.
Responsible sourcing is also about educating suppliers of a certain way to grow, produce or make; a way that is considered as ethical, fair, and less harmful to the environment.
Responsible sourcing is also not just about buying materials or supplies that are environmentally friendly; you can buy something that is certified environmentally less harmful but produced in a way where people are shortchanged.
You can be purchasing things that are grown in a way that is considered sustainable but done in a way where there are huge trade-offs, like the clearing of lands.
Why is responsible sourcing important in the pursuit of sustainability?
Sourcing responsibly forces an organisation to select the most ethical way of obtaining what it needs to manufacture its products.
And if you consider the pressures that organisations will then pass onto their supply chains, which creates a responsibility within the supply chain to look into sustainability more seriously.
When growers or stockholders are aware that companies prefer to source for products (or materials) in a particular way or ways, many may be encouraged to grow/cultivate/produce them that way.
And so ideally over time, this creates a network (big or small) of like-minded practice amongst the suppliers.
We all hope, that when more companies get onto the sustainability bandwagon, responsible sourcing will then create a whole entire population of ethical, environmentally friendly, responsible way of doing things.
For employees, responsible sourcing forces them to select those potential suppliers who seem to practice ethical and responsible ways of growing, manufacturing and producing, and discard (ignore) those who do not seem to.
It ideally should also enable employees to see the possible consequences of using suppliers whom they should not.
Employees can also improve their knowledge and understanding of sustainability when they need to work alongside those in the supply chain; for example, to engage with suppliers, current and potential, in sustainability practices.
In the pursuit of sustainability, maybe more so for companies new to sustainability, responsible sourcing could be an excellent way to learn about sustainability.
If materials are part of the important processes for your organisation, how they are sourced, grown, handled, purchased, bundled, transported, stored, should also be of importance to you.
Responsible sourcing also potentially opens up a myriad of potential solutions for issues and problems associated with sustainability.
For example, sourcing for food ingredients opens up some issues the suppliers to an organisation face; from child labour, to substitute materials used, to deforestation using transporting the supplies.
Hence, for bigger organisations, the engagements with responsible sourcing is often bigger, deeper and takes longer time.
It should be that way.
Engaging with suppliers to explore deeper collaborations in making sustainability stronger, is a necessary and rewarding journey for bigger organisations.
There could be local suppliers who might have missed out on opportunities not made available to them because of the ways organisations attempt to source their materials (responsibly).
The responsible practices can turn organisations away from presenting opportunities to work together with locals and in turn introduce more responsible and at times also more ethical growing practices.
An interesting area for some organisations to think about is in engaging with local suppliers who ought to benefit from the responsible sourcing practices of bigger organisations but who face obstacles in doing so.
For organisations, one obvious obstacle to overcome in ensuring sourcing is being done more responsibly, are resources, ranging from financial resources to human resources.
The future of responsible sourcing – being an enabler
The future of responsible outsourcing might well be one of creating an enabling environment – enabling suppliers to learn about how they can play a part in making sustainability happen, enabling suppliers and producers to think about creative ways of integrating sustainability into their business operations.
Responsible sourcing may gradually become an exercise where organisations look at the responsible part of responsible sourcing.
This means organisations working with their suppliers and producers to change their ways of doing things
It also means to enable an environment where these people collaborate to create opportunities for sustainable practices to become possible.
Paying attention to the “responsible” part of responsible sourcing
It will probably turn you towards looking at responsible sourcing more as a manner or way of sourcing, more of a journey, rather than an activity.
When we emphasise the word “responsible”, we might be referring or implying on a wider range of actions that companies or organisations should have to enable more responsible producing on the part of suppliers.
To borrow a line from Unilever, which describes their work on responsible sourcing, it said that part of what they do in that area also creates a pathway to realise their ambitions for positive social impacts.
And so maybe, responsible sourcing is a good starting point for companies on the road to sustainability.