How does circular procurement differ from sustainable procurement?
There are obviously significant overlaps between the two. Circular procurement tends to be more squarely focussed on environmental sustainability, while sustainable procurement also includes consideration of social issues. It’s also perhaps fair to say that circular procurement has a more definite goal: that procurement activities fit within a truly circular economy. While this may not be achievable in the short term, it avoids some of the subjectivity that may arise when organisations are simply looking to become “more sustainable” in the goods and services that they purchase.
Despite these important differences, many of the tools and approaches that are used in sustainable procurement can also be used for circular procurement. However, one important key aspect of circular procurement is that, done well, it requires a significant level of engagement and collaboration up and down the value chain. Procurement teams not only need to work with suppliers, but also need to think about how customers will use the products and services that they provide, and also the wider system in which they’re operating. For example, purchasing components made of (theoretically) recyclable materials isn’t circular if there is no realistic prospect of relevant recycling facilities being put in place in key customer locations.
How can you get started with circular procurement?
First of all, it makes sense to make sure that the basics of sustainable procurement are in place within your organisation: review your systems and processes against ISO20400 and address any gaps (we appreciate that this may not be a trivial task!). The next step is to understand the circular hotspots and opportunities in your supply chain: where are the biggest impacts across the lifecycles of the products and services that you buy, and which of them can be most easily addressed. It’s worth noting that those two things may not line up – for example steel and concrete are both big impact materials in construction, but it’s often easier to find a high-value re-use or recycling opportunity for the former than for the latter.