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The Emerging Dimension in Purchasing:

June 10, 2024
In the ever-evolving world of business, the art of making purchasing decisions has long rested on three key pillars: quality, price, and lead time. These elements form the bedrock of ensuring that companies get top-notch products at the best prices within a reasonable timeframe. However, a new and crucial factor has emerged on the scene, one that’s redefining how businesses approach procurement—sustainability. While this has already been present for some years in high-margin luxury goods and product industries, it is now becoming more apparent in other industries, such as aerospace, automotive, marine, motorsport and space.

Quality: The Non-Negotiable Cornerstone

Quality has always been the non-negotiable cornerstone of any purchase, especially when providing raw materials all the way to final components. High-quality products and services are vital for keeping customers happy, ensuring longevity, and reducing the hassle of frequent maintenance and complaints. Companies meticulously vet their suppliers, often demanding certifications, and references to confirm that particular quality standards are met. Quality is often a non-negotiable in industries producing safety critical products and systems. In such cases, adhering to specific quality standards is a must.

Sustainability in Purchasing. Balancing quality, price and lead time.

Price: The Balancing Act

Price is another key player in the purchasing decision game. Let’s face it, the cost of goods and services can make or break a deal. Companies constantly juggle the need for top quality with budget constraints, always on the hunt for the best value. Competitive pricing can be a game-changer, often tipping the scales in favor of more economical choices. Traditionally, companies focused heavily on cost reduction and optimization in raw material procurement, given the abundance of suppliers and consistent adherence to quality standards. However, sustainably sourced alternatives can now be a competitive differentiator, justifying potentially higher prices, while setting suppliers apart.

Lead Time: The Race Against the Clock

Then there’s lead time, the clock ticking from the moment an order is placed until it’s in hand. This is crucial, especially in just-in-time manufacturing and other time-sensitive operations. Short lead times help keep inventory levels optimal, storage costs down, and allow companies to react swiftly to market demands. The fast-paced world of R&D, especially in industries that rely on rapid prototyping, necessitates quick lead times. The ability to quickly manufacture multiple prototype variants for testing is essential in the pursuit of first-to-market, innovative solutions. 

Sustainability: The Emerging Factor

But now, we’re seeing a shift. Enter sustainability, the emerging factor that’s quickly becoming an influential factor in purchasing decisions. Sustainability is all about practices that don’t deplete resources or harm ecological systems, ensuring that future generations can thrive. It’s about looking at the environmental and social impacts of products and services throughout their entire lifecycle. In the realm of sustainable metals, there are a few major levers producers can use to influence their abilities to produce more sustainably. Put simply, they are: Clean energy sources powering the plant, a high amount of reverted feedstock in production, and a high yield rate. Focusing on these three pillars is essential in the ability to offer low-emission materials. 

Government Regulations: The EU’s CBAM

Governments around the world are catching on and starting to mandate sustainability in procurement. One of the most significant moves in this space is the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). CBAM is a groundbreaking policy aimed at curbing carbon emissions by putting a price on the carbon content of certain imported goods. Kicking off in 2023, CBAM initially covers sectors like cement, steel, aluminum, fertilizers, and electricity, with plans to expand. This regulation requires importers to purchase carbon certificates, matching the carbon price that would have been paid if the goods were produced under the EU’s strict carbon pricing rules. It’s a bold move to push foreign producers towards greener practices and ensure that EU companies aren’t disadvantaged for being environmentally responsible.

quality, price and lead time.

The CBAM is part of the regulatory framework developed to advance the European Commission’s ambitious goal of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and becoming a climate-neutral continent by 2050. This policy not only encourages sustainable practices globally but also levels the playing field for EU businesses adhering to stringent environmental standards.

This introduces new challenges and opportunities for companies supplying products to the EU. Beyond focusing on sustainable production methods, companies must learn to accurately track and break down emissions at the product level. Gathering all relevant data from production and upstream activities, and then deriving a CO2e value for each product, presents a significant challenge. However, companies that can harness this information, report it accurately, and develop a plan for more sustainable production can position themselves as pioneers and leaders in sustainability within their industry.

The Trend in the United States: Sustainability Metrics in RFPs

In the United States, the sustainability wave is gaining momentum, too. While the U.S. hasn’t yet rolled out something as comprehensive as CBAM, there’s a clear trend towards integrating sustainability into procurement processes. More and more, we’re seeing federal and state governments, along with private companies, embedding sustainability metrics in their Requests for Proposals (RFPs).

A report from the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) highlights that over 70% of U.S. states now include some form of sustainability criteria in their procurement processes. These RFPs are now asking bidders to prove their commitment to sustainable practices. This could mean showcasing efforts to reduce carbon footprints, use renewable energy, minimize waste, and uphold fair labor practices.

The Business Case for Sustainability

So why should businesses care about sustainability beyond regulatory compliance? The answer is simple: it’s good business. Sustainable procurement can lead to cost savings through efficient resource use and waste reduction. It can build brand loyalty, as more consumers and clients prefer companies that show environmental and social responsibility.

It’s also a smart risk management strategy, helping to avoid issues related to environmental regulations, supply chain disruptions, and reputation damage. Companies that fail to adopt sustainable practices risk falling behind as regulations tighten and consumer expectations rise. Furthermore, sustainability can spur innovation, leading to new products, services, and business models. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that transitioning to a circular economy could generate up to $4.5 trillion in global economic benefits by 2030.

Embracing a Sustainable Future

The traditional factors of quality, price, and lead time remain crucial in purchasing decisions, but sustainability is rapidly becoming an equally important factor. As regulations like the EU’s CBAM take effect and sustainability metrics become the norm in the U.S., companies must adapt. By weaving sustainability into their procurement strategies, businesses can not only stay compliant but also thrive in a world that’s increasingly focused on environmental and social responsibility. It’s a win-win for the planet and the bottom line.


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