The new Center for Sustainable Procurement, formed by the hotel company Hilton Worldwide and the global sustainability specialists BSR, is trying to build new tools for procurement professionals. The goal: help them bring sustainability data into their everyday purchasing decisions.

It’s one thing for companies to figure out the best ways to embrace sustainability within their own operations.

It’s another thing to figure out the best ways to get other companies — specifically, suppliers — to embrace sustainability, too.

One new lever in that challenge is an initiative called the Center for Sustainable Procurement (CSP). It was formed by Hilton Worldwide (Hilton), the global hotel company, and BSR, the global consultancy on sustainability, in what they term a “partnership in sustainable recruitment.”

CSP’s website notes that “although more sustainability data has become available in recent years, companies don't always know how to apply this information to the products they purchase.” CSP is designed to help procurement professionals get the “methods and guidance that will help them integrate product sustainability data into everyday purchasing decisions.”

William Kornegay, senior vice president, Hilton Supply Management, Hilton Worldwide, and Eric Olson, senior vice president, advisory services, BSR, are in the heart of the project.
They realized two things: First, that there wasn’t a way for procurement professionals at Hilton who were trying to weigh sustainability factors to easily differentiate between products they were buying for the hotels — products from computers to towels to soap. And second, that if there wasn’t an easy way for Hilton employees to do it, there probably wasn’t an easy way for a whole lot of other people to do it.

“Through Eric and the guys at BSR,” says Hilton’s Kornegay, “we talked about creating a standard tool set that will work, hopefully, globally.” Says BSR’s Olson: “What we realized is that there was a real white space and a real need to supplement all the existing work on sustainability with efforts that focus on the procurement manager.”

In a conversation with David Kiron, MIT Sloan Management Review’s executive editor of the Big Ideas Initiative, Kornegay and Olson talk about how the two organizations got together, the challenges of driving sustainability down to the level of a purchasing decision and why AT&T is an early model.

Let’s start with suppliers. I have a picture in my head of suppliers as passive movers in the sustainability movement.