In a near future, archeologists may dig some elements from the ground and qualify some shampoo bottles, plastic bottles or plastic wrappings they find as representative of the Anthropocene. Anthropocene?! Anthropocene is a term to qualify a proposed geological epoch in which human activity is considered to have significant impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems. End April 2016 is not only marked by the Earth Day (April 22) and the World Recycle Week (April 18 to 24). Indeed a group of scientists will debate and decide to accept or not the Anthropocene. Some even talk about Plasticene. With 100m tons of plastic produced globally each year and its difficulty to degrade lead our future us to consider this material as one of the characteristic of our strata. This also means that instead of using mosquitoes preserved in amber, John Hammond next generation might use plastic material to bioengineer inhabitants of the Anthropocene’s era… less enticing for a blockbuster movie isn’t it?
Plastic has taken such a place in our consumer life and on Earth that it is difficult to imagine our daily lives without it. Stop reading for 5 seconds, and now count the things surrounding you that are in plastic. I guess too many to be counted on your fingers… when it is recycled, plastic can be reused to produce other things, when it is not… it can end in the stomach of cachalots…
Not as gloomy as it seems…
Environmental, social and economic concerns have become important criteria in consumers’ choice. With such awareness, sustainability initiatives have increase within some countries and some organizations with attention on their procurement policies; from sourcing to recycling.
A recent survey made by Kurt Salmon and +Avocats showed that 54% of surveyed buyers (mainly French major groups) consider their organization as not capable of managing properly social, environmental and societal risks. Aware of it, this is maybe the reason why sustainable procurement has become a priority for some of them.
Since 2010, the think tank Observatoire des Achats Responsables (ObsAR) is conducting a survey related to sustainable procurement in France. Among the 351surveyed buyers in 2016 (105 from public organizations and 239 from private companies), 42% consider sustainable procurement as a priority. 85% of the respondents had a sustainable procurement policy in place; among which 32% had this policy in place for more than 5 years (43% Public sector; 20% Private sector). In this study, we learn that the main objectives in purchasing operations toward environment are: Reduce consumption (including energy consumption) (55%), Recycling (21%), Business process reengineering related to impacts on raw materials and products choice (17%), Reuse and repair (second life) (7%).
Speaking of objectives here are some examples. In 2014, my article Change through social construct? praised the G-Star Raw – RAW for the oceans campaign, winner of the Grand Prix Product Design at the 2014 Cannes Lions. Indeed, with its RAW for the Oceans collection, the famous jeans brand aims to contribute to cleaning the oceans of plastic debris, through a process using Bionic yarn, turning plastic waste reclaimed from the sea into a new generation of denim clothes. From G-Star’s site, we learn that “the first collection contain[ed] 10 tons of recycled PET plastic bottles collected from the shorelines, which translates into roughly 700.000 bottles.” So let’s be happy, especially when you know that Pharrell Williams is Creative Director of Bionic yarn! Staying in the clothing category, here is a brand I discovered by chance while hanging around in Spain: TWOTHIRDS. This less “mainstream” brand is also using recycled polyester materials such as water bottles, so that the garment they create is entirely or partly recyclable. Other brands examples that give great importance to material sourcing and processing: Patagonia, Zady, Po-Zu, Veja… These examples show that leverages exist: managing sourcing, buying and recycling.
Sourcing: a sustainable key of procurement strategy
Considering the way we are consuming, removing plastic from our daily life is more than a difficult challenge to tackle. Besides, beyond simple environmental considerations, socio-economic aspects are also underlying key factors. Such aspects have been well understood by Everlane. Consumers care about what they consume: “Where does it come from? How is it made? What is it made of?…”
Sourcing has also become a key concern for organizations. Therefore, they communicate more and more on their sourcing strategy.
Hopefully, the trend toward sustainable procurement will continue to rise, and what the artist and scientist Bonnie Monteleone had imagined as an updated view of what could have been the famous Hokusai’s Great wave print (19th century), won’t happen!