With the environment and corporate social responsibility even higher on the business agenda after the launch of Sheffield Sustainability Network, Office Friendly managing director Julie Hawley says it’s time to make your office products supplier a priority – their depth of knowledge could surprise you!

A lot of the conversations I had at the recent launch event of the Sheffield Sustainability Network (SSN) – and a similar question we’re asked on a day-to-day basis at Office Friendly – is about businesses wanting to source ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ products.

My answer is always the same … and it’s a question. What do you classify as green or alternative or sustainable?

Do you mean environmentally friendly?

Are you talking about the kind of raw materials products are made from?

How about the product’s carbon footprint?

Does the production plant itself recycle or have solar panels?

Is the manufacturer paying a living wage? Or giving back to the community, environment or education?

Office Friendly is a buying group in the office products industry with a 140-strong membership who all sell products with a collective turnover of £450million. We spend £54million a year with a Sheffield-based wholesaler on office products, furniture, facilities management, catering and janitorial.

Office products suppliers are often very low on the priority list for companies but actually they’ve built up a vast amount of knowledge over the years of many sectors. So when you’ve got someone coming into your business selling stationery actually their remit is far wider – and their knowledge much deeper.

These people are effectively experts in a lot of industries on areas like sustainability and that’s why we established Weaver – our social sustainability programme – to give them the credentials behind what they’re supplying to businesses.

I’d challenge businesses wanting to find ‘alternative’ or ‘green’ products to ask their supplier – they’ll be able to source you a great deal more than you think. We champion small businesses and have plenty of local, smaller suppliers competing against the big boys, but their advantage is they have that wealth of knowledge.

Take a pen – the components parts will probably be made in one country, be assembled in another and then shipped to UK for consumption. Then think of the life cycle of that pen – is it a single use item or refillable?

Is your business aware of schemes like Terracycle? They disassemble items at the end of their useful life and put their components back into the supply chain to be reused as something else like gardening implements, for example.

A key speaker at the SSN event was Webmart founder Simon Biltcliffe whose message was: you can still make a profit AND give back to the community and environment – it just takes a little bit more time and thought.

Businesses want to make a gear change – and chances are, your office products supplier can enable your company to take that first step.

Want to know more about sustainable office products, challenge your current provider or find out more about Weaver and how it can help your business?