Can Automation Help With Sustainability?


People have known the importance of sustainability for a long time, with interest in sustainability eddying and flowing with societal anxiety over resources. ?

However, while companies used to embrace sustainability as a way to save money, the latest McKinsey Global Survey on the topic finds that the top reason firms pursue a sustainability agenda is because its part of their values. Automation has been heralded as a means to free us from the drudgery of repetitive tasks that sap energy and time, and support us in value-enhanced activity. Therefore, it stands to reason that the sustainability agenda should be embraced as a value-enhancement activity to which we can devote the time we gain through automation.

Take + make + use + dispose = not sustainable

For many years now, our economy in the developed world has operated under the linear model of take -> make -> use -> dispose. While there are exceptions, some people are skilled enough to repair and reuse while others donate or resell barely used objects. Too many people simply dispose of objects they no longer need or perhaps never needed in the first place. Companies have encouraged this behaviour and have gone a step further through planned obsolesces. However, the pressure is on to move away from this linear model to the concept of microeconomic circular economy.

Briefly, circular economy promotes the idea of keeping resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. The concept forms an important part of the sustainability agenda as it becomes increasingly apparent that the true cost of the goods and services cannot always be measured by simply looking at the price.

What is sustainable procurement?

Sustainable procurement is a great business practice that focuses on socially and ethically responsible purchasing and delivering economically sound solutions to business, while minimising the environmental impact throughout a supply chain. Sustainable procurement is about sustainable supply-chain and not, what is usually the focus today, a sustainable supplier. Sustainable procurement would work with a circular economy to provide organisations with the benefits of cost reduction, revenue growth and by helping provide a better risk profile.

Moreover, consider this, when Dominic Barton, the global managing partner of McKinsey & Company, tries to convince CEOs hesitating to make sustainability part of their business model, he points out to them that the consumer driven push for sustainability has changed the economic environment. Many investors and financiers have pledged and actively avoid financing companies that they deem to be unsustainable. As a result, sustainable procurement is a way to future proof your companies supply chain.

Sustainability Agenda: can’t be handled through RPA.

Procurement is dead… long live Procurement!” says Matt Perfect, Impact Spender and Comprara Specialist Facilitator for Social and Sustainable Procurement. “Automation will certainly mean the end of process-centric procurement jobs but it will not be the end of the profession or the function. On the contrary, savvy professionals, keen to move up the ‘Consciousness Curve’ in business… are taking the opportunity to re-skill themselves in areas such Social and Sustainable Procurement that leverage their uniquely human attributes such as empathy and creativity.”

Moving from a linear economic model to a circular economic model, rethinking supply chains to consider sustainability, not only in terms of the environment but the human impact, are skills that cannot be given to robots. These are just the kind of value-enhancement activities procurement professionals will be asked to undertake as the more mundane tasks clogging up their schedule are taken over by robotic process automation (RPA) and other AI-driven procurement tools. Sustainable procurement requires a human because we apply fuzzy human thinking and reasoning to the process. But do you understand enough about the sustainability procurement to provide value to your organisation?

In the next decade, we may be doing tasks that are not yet invented.

As a profession, are we currently in a state of knowing what is unknown, or not knowing what is unknown? Some skills will be relevant and place you in good stead for your future, other skills may become redundant …the trick is knowing which is which! Ethics and Sustainability are explored as skills and competencies within the benchmark. Should you like to participate in the global benchmarking exercise that helps you determine this REGISTER TODAY – and you will be notified of its launch in April 2018.