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Sustainability in Supply Chains: An Introduction to our Innovate UK Project

Innovate UK Blog Post Series

Published: 27/04/2023

We are launching a series of reports on the Innovate UK that Cimple is delivering in partnership with NHS SBS and the Behavioural Insights Team. We will be reporting more on our project, Applying Behavioural Data Science, AI/ML to Improve Social Outcomes in Government Procurement in the coming months.

Sustainability has become a key concern for businesses, consumers, and governments as the world grapples with the consequences of climate change and considers the role and responsibility of business in society. In recent years, companies have been increasingly focused on measuring the sustainability of their supply chains as a way to reduce their carbon footprint and ensure ethical practices are being followed.

As more companies set ambitious targets to improve sustainability and meet Net Zero emissions, the role of the supply chain in achieving these goals has become increasingly important. Considering environmental factors alone, supply chains are responsible for a significant proportion of a company's emissions, and addressing these emissions is crucial for achieving Net Zero targets.

The UK government has recently introduced the Procurement Bill, which aims to overhaul public procurement rules and make them more streamlined, efficient, and transparent. One of the key objectives of the bill is to embed sustainability in public procurement, with the aim of promoting more environmentally friendly and socially responsible procurement practices.

The Procurement Bill seeks to achieve this objective in several ways. Firstly, it requires public bodies to consider the environmental, social, and economic impacts of their procurement decisions when awarding contracts. This means that sustainability will be a key consideration when evaluating bids and selecting suppliers. 

Secondly, the bill promotes the use of sustainability criteria in procurement by requiring public bodies to publish their sustainability policies and to include sustainability requirements in their procurement specifications. This will encourage suppliers to adopt more sustainable practices and products, and will help to drive the development of sustainable supply chains.

This is significant as, £1 in every £3 of public money, some c.£300bn is spent in supply chains. Representing a real opportunity for every pound spent to have a positive impact in our communities and create a tangible impact to limit environmental degradation. In October 2020, the NHS set out its roadmap to becoming Net Zero by 2045 taking into account every single area of the NHS ecosystem from patients, production to procurement. According to Greener NHS, 60% of the overall NHS carbon footprint is caused by the NHS supply chain with more than 80,000 suppliers across the supply of drugs, medical equipment, food and more.

The case is clear, there is a huge opportunity to achieve sustainability targets through better procurement practices and supply chain management. How do we bring this into action? It is clear that companies need to work with their suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint and promote sustainable practices throughout the supply chain. This requires a collaborative approach that involves educational awareness, setting targets, tracking progress, and sharing best practices.

Cimple is a scaling platform that was founded on the premise of simplifying the public sector procurement landscape. This was to enable buyers to get improved value for money and that suppliers, specifically SMEs, can access opportunities and provide value in the public sector. It uses leading technology to then simplify, automate and optimise the end-to-end buying and supplying experience.

For Government Buyers it:

For Government Suppliers it:

Our belief is that Cimple will have the power in the future to remove a significant proportion of carbon emissions from supply chains whilst improving local growth. As our intelligent interface becomes more powerful it will help buyers deliver the value they need whilst meeting social and environmental needs. For suppliers, it automates repeatable tasks in the sales process helping to optimise revenue growth. We truly believe that only a platform of this nature will help meet Net Zero in particular in Scope 3 emissions.

An area of increased interest across society is the unabated advancement of technology, namely machine learning and artificial intelligence. You only need to look at the epic scaling of OpenAI and their platform GPT-3 (now GPT-4) which hit 1 million users in under a week. There is no doubt that these technologies will revolutionise society in many respects.

There is a significant opportunity to use artificial intelligence and behavioural data science to optimise the end-to-end procurement lifecycle. This is going to be further accelerated in the UK Government with the move towards the new Procurement Regulation and the Open Contract Data Standard. AI and machine learning have the potential to transform procurement by improving efficiency, reducing costs, and promoting sustainability. There are opportunities to promote sustainability by identifying sustainable suppliers, monitoring compliance with sustainability criteria, and tracking environmental and social impact across the supply chain.

In 2022, Cimple secured grant funding through the Innovate UK funding program. This funding will enable Cimple to undertake a year long research project alongside NHS SBS and the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT). The overall scope of the project is to use digital techniques including data science, behavioural science and applications of AI/Machine Learning to improve societal outcomes delivered through Public Procurement. Specifically, the project will assess data and solutions within the health sector, no doubt there will be principles & approaches which can be applied across the entire procurement ecosystem.

This tri-party project, leveraging the data/behavioural science expertise of BIT, the sector knowledge of NHS SBS and Cimple platform presents an exciting opportunity for change. The project began in late 2022 - we hope to be able to understand how Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can enable:

For NHS SBS, the aim is to be able to assess social value outcomes throughout the supply chain for true end-to-end tracking as well as insight on how to support buyers towards higher social value suppliers, ensuring policy and information translates into action. This research aims to provide valuable insight on how the Health Family System can deliver a greater level of social value and drive towards Net Zero. Lydia Sullivan - Director of Procurement, Sustainability & Social Impact

About a third of public spending - £300bn - is on procurement. BIT's past research has shown how better information on supplier performance and simple changes to the design of procurement platforms can help officials make better decisions on what to buy and who to buy from. We're excited to work with Cimple and NHS SBS to make it easier to measure and track social outcomes across contracts and suppliers - to help achieve the government's ambition to use the power of the public purse to achieve Net Zero and social value goals. Nida Broughton, Behavioural Insights Team Director

Throughout this 12 month project, we aim to share our approaches, learnings and challenges in the interest of transparency to help improve the procurement landscape.

To stay updated on all project-related activity, you can find more information on LinkedIn and Twitter.