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How Can Leaders Develop the Sustainability Capabilities of Their Procurement Team?

Negotiation, category management, e-sourcing… Given their multifaceted responsibilities, Procurement professionals are real Swiss Army knives, and they need to be trained on many topics. Sustainability is one of them. Notably, recent legislations such as the Canadian Modern Slavery Act and the CSDDD (Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive) mandate the training of buyers on supply chain risks.

How can you effectively integrate sustainability into your procurement capability development program? Should all your team members undergo training? Is online training preferable over face-to-face sessions? How to keep up with such a rapidly evolving landscape, both in terms of legislation and scientific advancements? Keep reading to have the answers to those questions.

team learning


Basics: Building Robust Foundations for the Entire Team

While sustainability and sustainable procurement practices continuously evolve, there are essential principles that anyone engaging with suppliers in their daily roles must grasp. These fundamentals encompass:

  • Understanding the significance of sustainability and sustainable procurement for your company.

  • Familiarising the team with sustainability policies, particularly the Supplier Code of Conduct (and if applicable, the Sustainable Procurement Policy). It is crucial to educate them on the content of the Code, effective communication strategies, and addressing suppliers’ objections.

  • Recognising the enablers of sustainable procurement: governance, personnel development, stakeholder engagement, and success metrics.

  • Conducting risk and opportunity assessments within their respective categories and leveraging them as prioritisation tools to concentrate the team's efforts on critical areas.

  • Integrating sustainability into the category management process, spanning from specifications to tendering and contract management.

Regarding training delivery, it is highly recommended to conduct at least one face-to-face session with all team members. This format provides ample opportunities for interaction, enables questions to be addressed promptly, and facilitates hands-on practice with case studies. Additionally, peer learning opportunities are abundant in this setting. For annual refresher sessions or minor updates, e-learning platforms can be utilised effectively.



Intermediate: Empowering Category Managers with Targeted Knowledge

Before delving into specialised sustainability topics, conducting a sustainability risk and opportunity assessment is essential. This assessment ensures that each team member receives tailored training, avoiding information overload. Identify two (maximum three) priority topics for each category manager. For instance, you might opt to train your cocoa category manager on deforestation and child labour issues, while focusing on resource efficiency and circular economy concepts for your plastic packaging manager.

Once priorities are established, there are several avenues to enhance the managers' knowledge, as outlined in the following table:


Training type



Tailored face-to-face workshop, developed and delivered in-house or through a third-party


Quality of learning

Opportunity for interactive engagement, fostering better retention of information



Time-consuming development if conducted in-house


Ease of deployment

Immediate access for new category managers

Category managers can revisit the material anytime

Lack of interaction and ability to ask questions


Challenges in updating content

Subscription to specialised media channels (newsletters, industry publications, etc.)

Cost effective

Quality information curated by experts

Time-consuming to sift through


No guarantee of engagement from category managers

Self-directed research by the category manager

No cost


Encourages autonomy and resourcefulness

Reliability of information is not assured




May lack prioritisation without tie-ins to KPIs


Advanced: Developing Sustainability Champions

Finally, if you have a sizable procurement department housing multiple category and country teams, the cultivation of procurement sustainability champions may prove beneficial. These individuals won't function as dedicated sustainable procurement managers but will serve as the go-to sustainability references for their respective teams.

To develop such champions, options include formal sustainability education from institutions like Cambridge or Harvard, or the development of in-house advanced training covering pertinent sustainability aspects tailored to the company's needs.

To optimise effectiveness, considering they'll undertake these responsibilities alongside their regular duties, integration into their individual KPIs is crucial. This ensures that the initial investment of time and resources yields tangible impacts on the team while also providing recognition for those assuming these new responsibilities.

However, this model comes with notable drawbacks, primarily its expense and the risk of investment loss if the trained individual transitions to another role shortly after. Additionally, there's a potential risk of others perceiving sustainability as "someone else's job," necessitating careful consideration of its impact on team dynamics.



In summary, developing sustainability capabilities within procurement teams is essential in today's evolving landscape, driven by legislative mandates and the growing emphasis on ethical supply chain practices. From establishing robust foundations encompassing key sustainability principles to empowering category managers with targeted knowledge and cultivating sustainability champions, there are diverse approaches to fostering expertise in sustainable procurement.

As leaders in procurement, it's imperative you design a comprehensive capability development plan tailored to your organisation's needs and objectives. Moreover, integrating sustainability metrics into individual KPIs can incentivise accountability and drive meaningful progress towards building resilient and ethical supply chains.

If you opt for the third-party approach of if you simply want help in designing your sustainable procurement capability development program, reach out at or through our contact form. With our proven track record in guiding organisations towards sustainable practices, we're committed to empowering your procurement team to drive positive environmental and social impact.



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