By Daniel Ball, business development director at Ever heard the joke that the only way to be popular in…

By Daniel Ball, business development director at

Ever heard the joke that the only way to be popular in procurement is to buy a dog and take it in to work? Well, times are changing, and procurement’s popularity is on the ascent as it is recognised for its positive contribution to both the environment and society. Many of today’s savvy procurement professionals realise the advantages of adopting new approaches to how they buy goods and services.

Once perceived as the team that simply saves the business’ money, procurement’s role is changing, as both sustainable and ethical purchasing practices increasingly become business priorities.

Legislation such at the UK Climate Change Bill is forcing procurement to address environmental issues such as plastic reduction and biodiversity. And, more and more customers are now making their buying decisions based on their suppliers’ sustainability credentials.

While sustainable procurement can make a big contribution to an organisation’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, some businesses are making change of a different kind through their purchasing.

Ethical sourcing is a way for organisations to make positive societal change by choosing to buy from social enterprises which support those most marginalised from the workforce. According to Social Enterprise UK there are over 100,000 social enterprises in the UK. They employ two million people, contribute £60 billion to our economy and offer their services across most sectors. Just like traditional businesses, social enterprises work to make a profit but use it to help create positive social change for those most in need of support.

As well as contributing to good causes, engaging with social enterprises can also have a positive impact on the external and internal perception of a company. According to an Ipsos Mori poll, 84% of consumers believe that companies should do more for society. And, working with social enterprises can have a positive impact on staff morale too with 75% of millennials claiming they would agree to a pay cut to work for a more socially responsible company.

From bathroom soap to recruitment services, the UK’s social enterprises are well-equipped to support numerous business needs. Here are a few examples of social enterprises supplying to businesses throughout the UK:

Soap Co. is an ethical brand that creates cruelty-free body care products, including soap for office washrooms. It provides training and work opportunities for people who are visually impaired, or with other disabilities.

Graduate Planet, is a recruitment business which reinvests it profits into local environmental initiatives. 

Auticon is a national IT consultancy exclusively employing autistic adults as IT consultants.

Recycling Lives is recycling and waste management company that supports charity programmes for ex-offenders.

Working with social enterprises can sometimes be as easy as changing office supplies provider. Another business dedicated to changing lives, is WildHearts Group, a leading UK B2B social enterprise. It encourages businesses to make a positive social impact simply by coming to them for office supplies. Providing 35,000 everyday products that businesses need to buy anyway at competitive prices, its profits help funds the work of the WildHearts Foundation who support struggling female entrepreneurs in Africa and young people affected by social immobility in the UK. 

One CPO who works with the WildHearts Group, told us about the impact this approach to procurement is having on the organisation: “Social enterprises have revolutionised the scale of conversations procurement now has with key stakeholders in the business.

“We’ve found an effective way of making people feel good about procurement. We now have case studies demonstrating how we are contributing – for example, we’ve helped a Ugandan mother set up her own business. Borrowing just £40 enabled her to set up her own fruit and vegetable stall.  It’s no longer a conversation about a ream of paper but one about helping someone educate their kids. What’s not to like about that?”

As well as helping facilitate social mobility, there are many more benefits this ethical approach to procurement can bring to the business. Working with social enterprises doesn’t have to mean compromising on cost or quality, with many suppliers credited for their excellent customer service, competitive pricing, and innovative products and services. 

Crucially, it’s also becoming increasingly common for customers to only want to work with businesses who support social enterprises. WildHearts Group say  they often see organisations highlight their association with them in tenders to help them win the business.

Both sustainable and ethical procurement practices not only deliver both environmental and societal benefits but contribute to the success and motivation of the wider business too. But don’t underestimate the impact these approaches to purchasing can have on the procurement team too.

Another CPO told us that he’d met more senior managers at his business through working with social enterprises than he ever would have done so previously. Perhaps now CPOs can raise their profiles without having to buy a dog after all.

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