Sustainability has become one of the most vital components of businesses around the globe. According to the Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc.’s 2021 Sustainability Reporting in Focus, 92% of S&P 500 and 80% of Russell 1000 companies published sustainability reports. However, even with all the promises to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of sustainable packaging, many companies are still struggling to improve sustainability practices across the organization.
While there are several reasons why companies may find meeting sustainability goals difficult, there is a community that can offer better insight into how businesses can change their business practices at the ground level and leverage more environmentally-friendly tactics for greener operations: Indigenous people.
Indigenous people possess a wealth of knowledge and everyday practices that procurement teams can learn from. Let’s examine the historical and practical impacts Indigenous people have made on our planet, then we can address how your organization can use that knowledge to practice better sustainability.
Indigenous people are the forefathers of sustainability
For generations, Indigenous people have lived on and survived off of their local environment, learning how to use what is around them to sustain themselves and their communities. Even as they are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, these communities continue to adapt and hold onto the sustainability practices that have allowed them to survive for thousands of years. When you consider how deeply rooted sustainability is within Indigenous culture, there is no better place to look for better practices.
In a thought leadership piece, Rebecca Tsosie, internationally recognized as one of the most respected legal scholars in the field of federal Indian law and Indigenous people’s human rights, spoke on the connection between Indigenous people and sustainability, saying:
“For most Indigenous peoples, ‘sustainability’ is the result of conscious and intentional strategies designed to secure a balance between human beings and the natural world and to preserve that balance for the benefit of future generations. Today, Indigenous nations continue to invoke those values and others as they develop and reinvigorate their own survival mechanisms without compromising culture, tradition, or enduring and long-standing lifeways.”
This knowledge of conscious preservation and adaptation has remained a cornerstone of Indigenous sustainability—giving these communities, and those who interact with them, a strong foundation on which to practice more environmentally-friendly business practices. More than that, these communities have used this knowledge to navigate and build coping mechanisms around the negative effects of climate change, increasing their innovation as they support their survival in harsh climates [Wipo Magazine].
Dependency of local biodiversity
According to the United Nations, although they account for only about 5% of the world’s population, Indigenous people effectively manage about 25% of the world’s land surfaces. Much of that land also holds 80% of the world’s biodiversity and 40% of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact landscapes.
This makes Indigenous people heavily invested in global efforts to protect, and hopefully improve, our planet. As the global demand for goods accelerates the exploitation and loss of biodiversity, Indigenous communities have advocated “for environmental protection and cultural integrity…[and] resistance to these threats against the environment,” as quoted in Wipo Magazine.
Learning sustainable practices from indigenous people
With their commitment to protecting the environment and advocating for more ethical and green practices, Indigenous people offer a lot to be learned in terms of sustainability.
We recommend that organizations invest time in communicating with local Indigenous communities to gather insights on better sustainability practices, starting with the basics outlined below.
Protecting our planet is one of the biggest priorities of Indigenous people. A popular way they have sought to do this is through more sustainable agriculture practices. Many Indigenous communities practice rotational farming in order to maximize resources, increase soil fertility, and improve species adaptations. Regenerative agriculture is also implemented to improve the quality of life of farmers and reduce carbon ground emissions.
These are practical solutions organizations can invest in on a Tier 1 supplier level. Business Insider says that,
“Large companies like Timberland, Allbirds, Patagonia, General Mills, and Nestlé have poured millions of dollars into figuring out how their suppliers can help restore soil and become one of the solutions to the climate crisis.”
Local adaption to change
Indigenous people have long adapted to changes in their environment, both those that occur naturally and those that are exacerbated by climate change. They have taken note of the environment in which they live and changed the way they grow crops, raise livestock, and use natural resources in order to reduce the risk of natural disasters and preserve biodiversity, as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.
While these efforts are critical to maintaining livelihood within these communities, they are also considered critical components in the fight against food insecurity. It would be wise for larger organizations to consider how they can factor in their local environment to improve business practices and become more sustainable.
Respect for natural resources
Many Indigenous communities rely on their natural environment for everything—from food and water to their livelihoods and culture. They also view nature and people as one, assuming the role of caregivers and caretakers of Earth who must strengthen the bond between all beings.
As they have worked for generations to protect natural resources and use them wisely, so can larger organizations by establishing sustainable policies that work to meet business goals while also protecting or restoring natural resources.
It is vital to openly communicate with and invest in Indigenous communities and involve them in policy changes. As procurement teams work to practice better sustainability, they should also work to include Indigenous people in their processes at the business level.
How to include indigenous businesses in your supply chain
Indigenous businesses in Canada
There are currently over 30,000 Indigenous businesses in Canada that contribute in excess of $30 billion annually to Canada’s economy. With such a significant impact on the country’s economy, it makes sense to see the federal government expanding measures to increase opportunities for Indigenous businesses.
A recent study by Sodexo supported the importance of these initiatives, claiming 77% of survey citizens agree Canadian corporations should include Indigenous-owned and operated businesses in their supplier networks whenever possible. Additionally, 79% of Canadians recognize the importance of thriving Indigenous enterprises to the creation of sustainable economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples. Both from a diversity and sustainability perspective, it is clear that Indigenous businesses need to be included in procurement processes.
Learn about your community
There are three main groups included in Canada’s entrepreneurial initiatives: First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. Each community possesses its own unique ways of living, traditions, and practices that help them live sustainably. While federal and provincial initiatives have widened the geographical area that federal procurement organizations must prioritize for Indigenous businesses, organizations should take it upon themselves to learn about the communities in their areas and foster communication that enables collaboration for a more sustainable future.
65% of Canadians think companies doing business on or near First Nations, Inuit and Métis lands should obtain services from Indigenous businesses whenever possible. Consider moving processes away from long-shore suppliers and onboarding Indigenous businesses for a more first-hand view of your environment. The insights and knowledge these communities offer can greatly impact sustainability efforts.
Involvement in business decisions
When government entities or private sector organizations make decisions about sustainability, Indigenous people are often left out of the equation, even though these decisions have a big impact on their communities. When policies are being enacted that affect Indigenous people, include them in the conversation and consult them on the ways their culture and knowledge of the environment can be used to practice better sustainability without further harming their people.
Oluwatobiloba Moody WIPO Nigeria Office, Wipo MagazineEngaging with Indigenous peoples to benefit from their knowledge, while respecting their world view and ensuring the sustainability of their way of life, must remain central to global responses [regarding sustainability].
Include Indigenous requirements in diversity spend
Oftentimes, organizations will prioritize certain minority groups when determining how to divide their diverse spend. While there is no need to disregard one group for another, adding a requirement for increased diversity spend with Indigenous businesses can help drive both economic impact and sustainability efforts for buyers and suppliers.
By including more Indigenous businesses in your supply chain, your organization can create more economic opportunities for these underutilized communities, leverage their knowledge through legitimate business inclusion, and drive environmentally-friendly practices at a base level.
Consider difficulties for suppliers
Even if you’re hoping to attract Indigenous suppliers, your existing procurement practices may not allow for businesses to easily participate in sourcing events. In some cases, these businesses may not have the experience, resources, or finances needed to fill out long request forms or afford bid deposits.
To create a more equitable space and make the RFP process more accessible for Indigenous suppliers, consider:
- Holding educational workshops to help business owners learn about your RFP process
- Proactively reaching out to communities when you’re having a sourcing event
- Allowing more time for suppliers to complete bids
- Reducing the financial requirements of your RFP
Leveraging Indigenous knowledge for stronger sustainability
By opening communication with Indigenous communities and allowing them to teach our industry better ways to approach sustainability, we can work together to create a greener world while simultaneously opening opportunities for economic equity.
We encourage you to use to resources below to enhance your knowledge of historically proven environmental practices, improve sustainability efforts throughout your organization, and increase business with Indigenous suppliers: