Money can buy you love, as 1,000 suppliers create social responsibility plans

With an annual spend of around £410m on goods and services and a £1bn campus development programme, The University of Manchester is exerting significant influence on its suppliers’ approach to social and environmental issues with 1,000 now accessing its supplier engagement tool to create bespoke action plans.

Working with NETPositive Futures, the University has created a free tool which all suppliers are encouraged to use to explore their social and environmental impacts. A customised action plan is then generated for them which may help solve existing problems or embed new activity which makes a positive difference.

By using this approach, the University’s Procurement Team is stimulating change in the 1,000 suppliers who have signed up and spreading best practice well beyond their normal sphere of influence. Suggested actions generated by the tool range from developing an apprenticeship programme, to promoting sustainable travel options, and are directly related to the business’ own priorities.

“Many large organisations ask to see the environmental or other polices of their suppliers as part of the approval process,” said Kevin Casey, Head of Procurement. “We wanted to move beyond a box-ticking exercise and encourage suppliers to focus on the actions rather than words. That’s why it’s not a compulsory measure, but helps businesses understand the things they could be doing to make a difference.”

One such business is Chariot Office Supplies, a Manchester-based company which employs 13 people. Accessing the tool provided by the University helped this company have a re-think about their operations, moving from two sites to one – resulting in reduced carbon emissions and time spent travelling between two locations. The single site was upgraded, a process which included LED lighting and insulation to improve environmental performance and a staff room as part of an employee wellbeing initiative.

Managing director, Mike Carter said: “As a preferred supplier to the University, we have been encouraged to make use of this tool. This has enabled our business to think about how we can make improvements by thinking about our environmental, social and economic impacts.

“Not only does this have a positive impact on our supply to the University, it has also helped us to win new business and also retain business.”

Manchester is the only university with social responsibility as a major strategic goal and this is one of the ways in which we can make a huge difference - not just by choosing who we spend our money with, but by influencing the entire supply chain
Kevin Casey, Head of Procurement

At the same time as helping the suppliers, the tool provides the University with information which helps them learn more about their supply chain. The team will use this to inform future decisions about how they can do even more to help its suppliers. For example, the procurement team now knows that 68% of products supplied are manufactured outside of the UK and this helps the University investigate the whole supply chain to ensure it is operating in a responsible way.

This process is important for larger suppliers as well. Edmundson Electrical Ltd is the largest electrical wholesaler in the UK with more than 360 sites across the country. They have had a trading relationship with the University since the 1990s, and acknowledge that change is a continuous process which takes time to filter down.

Their company’s Key Accounts department commented: “Using the tool has been useful as it has confirmed elements of our current approach to environmental issues, such as fuel efficient transport, as this is an important part of our overall environmental sustainability plan.”

With 1,000 suppliers already registered the next stage is to increase numbers and develop the tool and continue to help other universities learn from the Manchester approach.

Kevin added: “Manchester is the only university with social responsibility as a major strategic goal and this is one of the ways in which we can make a huge difference - not just by choosing who we spend our money with, but by influencing the entire supply chain.”

Sheri-Leigh Miles, Director of NETpositive Futures said: "Kevin and his team continue to lead the way with their responsible procurement activity at The University of Manchester. It is great to see them not only helping their suppliers but also sharing their approach so other teams can learn from them."

A report on the project can be downloaded from the University procurement website.

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