Like many other people around the world, even more so through the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve found myself buying more online than before with a greater need to be more aware of buying responsibly, locally and sustainably. When buying products and services for myself and my home, I like to be able to know the companies providing them care about social and environmental issues. Are the company’s employees and policies socially responsible? Are its suppliers acting safely and fairly? Is it buying, consuming and disposing responsibly? Is its supply chain environmentally sound? Does the company give back to its local community? Companies that clearly communicate their vision for being responsible and supporting sustainable initiatives make it easy for me to feel confident about what I’m buying (i.e., it’s being responsibly sourced) and whom I buy it from.

I think a lot of us would also like to have this kind of information available when buying products and services for the company we work for. Wouldn’t you be more likely to purchase travel, or office supplies, or technology from a company you’re confident is acting responsibly? I know I would, but until now, getting that kind of information at work hasn’t been easy. Generally, I find myself buying whatever is #1 on the list to reduce the amount of “wasted” time spent searching and get back to my job. And because of that, responsibility has often taken a back seat to price and convenience when business buyers make their purchases.

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Wouldn’t you be more likely to purchase travel, or office supplies, or technology from a company you’re confident is acting responsibly?

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A new way to bring responsibility to procurement

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Now, it’s possible to share corporate responsibility and sustainability data with business buyers on every product, service, and provider so buyers can be better informed about what they’re purchasing—and make conscious decisions to support responsible providers and brands. This doesn’t stop at the organization’s use of sustainable materials. Rich data can now provide traceability of social variables dealing with community, education, equity, social resources, health, well-being, and quality of life; as well as factors influencing the environment, including those relating to natural resources, water and air quality, energy conservation, and land use.

Coupa’s Business Spend Management suite is a leading example of a procurement network/platform that provides such data by baking responsibility into its core functionality. With this SaaS suite, companies can ensure every dollar they spend is responsible, drive responsible operations, and do more with community. Coupa provides the governance, controls, and visibility that make responsible buying easy and, if desired, even the default behavior.

Key behavioral changes can be driven through tags to every product a company buys so it’s clear, for instance, whether a product is from an indigenous supplier, made from recycled materials, or contributes to social good. Responsible-minded goods can automatically appear at the top of search results, and sustainability managers can be required approvers for certain categories of products. And, with one click, users can see a supplier’s overall sustainability score, as well as specific scores on the environment, labor and human rights, and company ethics, for example.

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Furthermore, Coupa enables procurement professionals to easily capture supplier responsibility information during sourcing events and assess prospective suppliers across a wide range of responsibility factors, while incorporating responsibility constraints and goals into sourcing optimizations. With an easy-to-use analytics capability, procurement can build its own dashboard and create reports to monitor responsibility impact and progress in near real time across all transactions, products, and services. Procurement can see, for instance, how many invoices its electronic invoicing has eliminated from being printed and shipped, and how that’s translated into savings of trees, water, oil, and emissions. Across all Coupa customers, between February 2019 and January 2020, electronic purchase orders and invoices have rescued nearly 11,000 trees, conserved 675 million liters of water, saved 1.35 million liters of oil, and avoided 1.7 million kilograms of CO2 emissions.

Turning thoughts and words into demonstrated action

That’s the kind of visibility that, until now, companies have only dreamed of having. Most companies have set some great goals and are truly committed to making their business more responsible and sustainable. But they’ve really struggled to actually track how they’re doing, so they’re not sure what’s working and what’s not, and can’t get the credit they deserve for doing the right thing. And that means it’s difficult for companies to demonstrate they’re putting action behind their words and gathering the data they can use to differentiate their brands. Platforms like Coupa’s not only make responsible buying a no-brainer, but also allows companies to see and quantify the positive impact they’re having on society and the environment.

I’m really excited by the prospect of millions of business buyers now being able to easily identify which aspects of responsibility their purchases can influence and using that visibility to help guide their decisions. And honestly, I’m a little jealous that this kind of information isn’t readily available in my personal purchasing decisions. Would I be more likely to buy something if it were flagged as being made by an artisan at a local business with highly sustainable business practices, or as sold by a company that paid its suppliers fair wages and supported a safe working environment? You bet I would. 

See more Supply Chain & Operations insights.

Kathryn Mouton

Growth Markets Lead – Accenture’s Coupa Practice

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