Interview: We must treat climate change with the same urgency as other crises we are facing – Bayer CPO

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By: Sakthi Prasad -- Content Director

03 May, 2020

Interview: We must treat climate change with the same urgency as other crises we are facing – Bayer CPO
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Dirk Karl


       (Pic Courtesy: Thomas Udesen)

Amidst the sea of negative news during the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, one positive headline stood out: Air pollution and CO2 emissions fell rapidly as the virus went global.

Data from the European Environment Agency (EEA) showed significant decrease in air pollutant concentrations—nitrogen dioxide (NO2), in particular—primarily caused by reduced traffic and social activities, especially in major cities that were placed under lockdown. This data also showed that pollution has halved in some locations.

However, the EEA has warned that a virus-induced shutdown cannot serve as a permanent solution; sustainable solutions, ambitious policies, and forward-looking investments are required to address air quality problems in the long run.

Needless to say, air quality is expected to return to its prior state (i.e., bad) when the shutdown ends and normalcy is restored -- and when it returns the pollution will impose both Health and Economic costs.

Individual Action

It is time for every individual to take responsibility toward protecting the environment. This statement sounds lofty, but have we considered whether it is possible for us to implement it in our day-to-day lives, especially in our work lives as Procurement professionals?

Beroe posed this question to Thomas Udesen, the Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) of life-science company Bayer AG, who is also a passionate Sustainability Ambassador.

His response was quick: “Yes, very much possible and totally necessary. We are at the cusp of change; the virus pandemic has given us a historic opportunity to take stock of our modern way of life fueled by carbon, which offers us unimaginable convenience but is also causing incredible damage to our environment. The current crisis has given us time to pause and reflect on our priorities when it comes to environmental responsibility. Climate change is already the greatest challenge facing humanity. The science is crystal clear and the number of people looking the other way is thankfully reducing”. 

Thomas was working from home—because his city was under lockdown—when he received Beroe’s video call. He was jovial and provided a peek of his home office; the domestic quiet of his neighborhood noticeable through the window.

In an exclusive interview with Beroe, Thomas spoke about his passion project, The Sustainable Procurement Pledge (#SPP), and discussed how Procurement professionals can play a key role in implementing sustainability initiatives.

“Sustainable Procurement Pledge (#SPP) was an idea that was born when I witnessed the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019. During the climate strike, I saw children and adults from all walks of life making a clear statement: leave the planet in the same condition as it had been entrusted to us. Basically, I do not want my kids to ask me 20 years later, ‘why did you do nothing to prevent this?’” Thomas said.

Dirk Karl


           (Pic Courtesy: Bertrand Conqueret)

Thomas started #SPP, a voluntary group of Sustainability Ambassadors, in partnership with Bertrand Conqueret, the CPO of Henkel, the German chemical and consumer goods company.

Currently, the group has 950 Ambassadors, including interns, CPOs, buyers, and suppliers. According to Thomas, the group is entirely pro-bono, with no budget and no revenue; and most members have day jobs. The ambition is to ensure that the principles of #SPP are lived through the everyday actions of the Ambassadors and their networks. In that way #SPP acts as a personal and professional codex.

“The idea is to create a sense of individual responsibility, which hopefully will lead to a full-scale bottom-up revolution in favor of responsible procurement. We would like to see unsustainable practices being discarded by companies over a period of time. In fact, we do not have much time and we need to act fast,” he urged.

He also added that the #SPP pledge is complementary to the Responsible Procurement agenda of each company. “It adds to our cause,” he said.

For his part, Thomas stated that Bayer’s Supplier Code of Conduct is based on the principles of the U.N. Global Compact and on Bayer’s Human Rights Position.

“Our Procurement team is particularly focused on preventing child labor—a practice that my team categorically rejects. Many years ago, we have launched a program specifically to deal with this issue,” he said.

Thomas stated that the main purpose of #SPP is to inspire Procurement professionals to leverage their positions for good, thereby ensuring that the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals of ending poverty and protecting the planet will be fulfilled by 2030.

“The key lies in each and every one of us. If we decide to incorporate sustainability in our everyday decision matrix, then the sum of all individual actions will start to make a huge impact on our world,” he added.

The Pledge

Thomas explained that the #SPP addresses Procurement professionals, academics, and students who wish to become a Sustainability Ambassador and promote a Responsible Procurement agenda through personal engagement.

“I would want each member to personally commit to the statements given in the pledge, while including them in their day-to-day business conduct,” he said.

By joining the group of #SPP Ambassadors on LinkedIn, people commit to the following pledge:

Standing up for people and our planet!

I fully understand the criticality of climate change and the need for me to become an active participant in enacting changes to improve the environment. I pledge to do my best to stop the exploitation of nature and human beings, environmental pollution, and rising inequality and injustice. I will act against modern slavery, human trafficking, child labor, corruption, and bribery, while simultaneously upholding business ethics and law-abiding behavior.

Together we will change the world!

I am convinced that all of us involved in Procurement can make a difference by joining forces to accelerate the creation of a just world with low-carbon emissions by contributing to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. I will team up with my Procurement colleagues and networks, academics, NGOs, and government bodies to enable the exchange of and advance responsible business behavior.

Starting with myself!

I commit myself to lead by example and include sustainability as part of my overall mindful vision and values. I will integrate sustainability aspects into my daily Procurement decision-making criteria and work with my colleagues and suppliers to drive lasting improvements.

Sharing my knowledge and listening to others!

I will actively share my sustainability knowledge while maintaining confidentiality obligations, following antitrust rules, and collaborating with all involved stakeholders in our shared mission. I will remain open to the advice and proposals of my peers.

Leaving the right legacy!

I pledge to raise my concerns in the occurrence of inappropriate business behavior or unsustainable practices. I fully respect the principles stated by the U.N. Global Compact and other international standards and agreements. I am determined to ensure that Procurement leaves the legacy of protecting a sustainable planet for us and future generations.

Way Forward

The #SPP is a young initiative. Thomas said that he hopes to expand the project in the coming months and years.

As part of the engagement activity, the group requests all #SPP members to complete a survey aimed at capturing their individual actions—however small they may be—in the effort toward implementing sustainability measures.

Thomas laid out a three-pronged approach to popularize #SPP:

  • Spread the word: The aim is to activate Procurement professionals around the globe. His expectation is that if a new #SPP Ambassador brings two in addition, the number of supporters will soon soar up high. He also hopes to rope in a CEO or CPO who can act as #SPP’s Ambassador.
     
  • Deepen engagement within the community: Thomas hopes to engage with #SPP members on a periodic basis to ensure the exchange of ideas and best practices. He said that great and high-quality contributions are already being exchanged in the group of #SPP Ambassadors on LinkedIn. “This engagement is going to be strengthened on the soon-to-come #SPP webpage,” he added.
     
  • Encourage external stakeholders to adopt the #SPP pledge.

Thomas said the ongoing survey revealed that #SPP Ambassadors value real life examples on how to solve practical problems.

“I consider it a success if a small company, which hitherto never thought of Responsible Procurement, decides to implement a Code of Conduct and formalizes one KPI that addresses the question. I am positive about the change this initiative will bring,” Thomas concluded.

If you would like to become #SPP Ambassador, please click here to join: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8845732/




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Daniel Barragán Cantú

Great initiative.

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Ricardo Lima

Excellent interview and even better approach on #SPP initiative. I had no idea an initiative like this existed and I´m pretty anxious to be part of this. Thanks Beroe to bring this.

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