Sustainability research

Sustainability has never been more important, and procurement could play a strategic role to make a decisive difference. The procurement function is particularly positioned to contribute to overall sustainability of an organization. Due to its position at managing two thirds of the company sustainability footprint through its supplier base or the size and impact of the public procurement in terms of share of the GDP of the country. Therefore, procurement has the potential to impact all parts of the triple bottom line; social, economic, and environmental sustainability. This in turn means that research and new knowledge in the field of sustainable procurement, both private and public, have the potential to impact and contribute to improved procurement practices with a strong impact on sustainability.

The circular economy has become an increasingly prominent part of national sustainability agendas. The transition towards a circular economy puts pressure on organizations to purchase in a circular manner. However, the transition path from a traditional economy towards a circular economy is one with many hurdles. The main challenge associated with implementing a circular supply chain is that the materials should circulate for a long period of time. Neessen et al (2020) address this issue in their interviews with purchasers, supervisors and policy makers of seven Dutch organizations. The results of the comparative case-study show that the main roles of the purchaser are those of coordinator, facilitator and advisor, and that the successful circular purchaser can best be described as intrapreneurial, sustainability-minded and knowledgeable about the circular economy. Based on their results, they pose that in order for organizations to be successful in circular purchasing they should encourage purchasers to become intrapreneurial.

In another recent article on a similar theme, Eggert et al (2021) ask the questions: Does environmental purchasing and supplier management (EPSM) help to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the supply chain and, thereby, mitigate climate change? And, if so, under which conditions? Initially they observe that efforts to reduce upstream emissions by involving the supply base are of increasing importance to numerous buying organizations. In order to answer these two questions, they compile a longitudinal dataset including 260 companies and 1821 company-year observations over the period 2005 to 2017. Their empirical analyses provide supporting evidence that EPSM – including activities such as management support, supplier assessment, and collaboration – appear to have the predicted GHG reduction effect. Their research highlights the importance of accurately measuring GHG emissions at the supply chain level in order to be able to address them. According to Eggert et al this will enable decision-makers to take effective action and free themselves from accusations of greenwashing. The study shows that EPSM can be a powerful tool to satisfy stakeholders’ expectations who increasingly demand that companies contribute to mitigate the risks emanating from global climate change.

In a similar vein, in the context of the development of a competence model for sustainable purchasing and supply management, Schulze and Bals (2020), address the gap between the two with the aim to foster the integration of sustainability in purchasing and in supply management. Their qualitative study was conducted with 16 Delphi experts in the field of purchasing and supply management and sustainability. Focusing on four central competence areas (cognitive, functional, social and meta competences) the researchers focusing on the most important knowledge and competence areas. Their research aims to support companies and other organisations to develop competence profiles for sustainable purchasing and supply management.


Petra C.M. Neessen, Marjolein C.J. Caniëls, Bart Vos, Jeroen P. de Jong (2020), “How and when do purchasers successfully contribute to the implementation of circular purchasing: A comparative case-study”, Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management, 17 Dec 2020. Available online:

Heike Schulze, Lydia Bals (2020), “Implementing sustainable purchasing and supply management (SPSM): A Delphi study on competences needed by purchasing and supply management (PSM) professionals”, Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management, Volume 26, Issue 4. Available online:–2

Julius Eggert, Julia Hartmann (2021), “Purchasing’s contribution to supply chain emission reduction“, Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management, Volume 27, Issue 2. Available online: