The Big Interview with Jo Parkin

Jo Parkin is a Sustainable Procurement Director and Co-chair on the Sustainability Procurement Pledge board. In her Big Interview with Jess Hirst, she delves into how ESG has evolved as a key focus within the Procurement space and what we can do to drive these initiatives.

Tell us about your journey into Procurement

I started after graduation with a business degree, specialising in Procurement, and went into product development. Initially working within clothing, then health and beauty before transitioning into Procurement.

At what point in your procurement career did you shift into a more ESG

It was about three years ago. I have worked in a number of organisations across different sectors but mostly in financial services. I wanted a different challenge and a different journey and realised at that point that I could combine my passion for sustainability with my role within procurement. 

I got involved with an organisation called The Sustainable Procurement
Pledge. SPP is an International bottom-up and not-for-profit organisation for procurement professionals, academics, and practitioners driving awareness and knowledge on responsible sourcing practises. It was set up in 2019 by two of the most inspiring Procurement leaders, Thomas
Udesen and Bertrand Coqueret, who had wanted to empower Procurement professionals to be more sustainable and have the knowledge to drive changes required within their own supply chains.

Ultimately, we have one planet that needs significant change in a limited timeframe. It is estimated that global supply chain spend is $10-15 trillion a year and SPP’s vision is for all supply chains, across the world, to have embedded sustainable procurement practises by 2030.  

Seb Butt and I are the co-chairs of the UK Chapter of SPP and the branch for the Sustainable Procurement Pledge. It is worth just mentioning how amazing WSPD was this year. On 21st March we hosted 24 thought-provoking sessions over a 24-hour period. This year saw remarkable engagement with online attendance increasing by 20% and numerous in-person team viewing events that united procurement communities from across the globe. 

In my most recent sustainable procurement role, I have been leading Capita’s programme. embedding ESG within the supply chains. Capita is an interesting organisation because it supports clients from both the private and public sector. In my role I understood the ESG supply chain requirements across the spectrum of clients and sought to drive sustainability throughout the supply chain to meet client, investor and the organisation’s requirements.

Since being Co-Chair of the Sustainable Procurement Pledge, how has this changed the way in which you see Procurement?

I think the awareness of sustainability within Procurement functions has increased across countries and industries over the last three years which I have been delighted about. There is still so much to do but it is great to see more specific sustainable procurement roles within teams and hope that this will continue further.

Why do you think some companies struggle to adopt ESG measures and implement that sort of focus within the function?

Honestly, you are still competing for everything else that Procurement and organisation needs to do.

Within Procurement there are always budget and resource constraints, you have to be able to manage the team’s delivery. There are still risks and requirements of your supply chain as well as managing ESG. There is cost inflation, economic instability, supply chain disruptions, political unrest and war – all of which can slow down ESG investment. Some organisations struggle to start and I’ve seen a few get lost in the data – too busy baselining. It is very true what gets measured gets actioned but there is a fine line. If you spend too long gathering the data and creating the baseline, you have lost 6 months or 12 months or more in terms of actual progress you could be making.

What three things would you suggest a Procurement function initially looks at to
improve their ESG strategy?

I think a Procurement function is ideally placed to be a change agent within the organisation to increase the awareness, both within the team, but also wider and upwards.

If it isn’t on the agenda yet, be that change agent, be the voice upwards and wider across. The are increasing customers, employees and investors who want to focus on ESG so it should be on your board members’ radar. If it is not, there’s a starting point.

Secondly, understand your own supply chain, look at your own barriers – are you asking for unreasonable things from small and medium-sized enterprises? Do you require certifications when adherence might be enough? Are you asking for lots of data and baselining of information when actually slightly less, if they are a smaller business, may help you build those inclusive supply chains. Do you know where you want to be?

The third thing is from an SRM perspective. Talk to your suppliers – even if you don’t have all the answers today, you can at least open those conversations – add it to the agenda. Ask them what they are doing, ask them to work with you to make improvements. I think that is a universal capability within Procurement.

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