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Rasha Rehman headshot

How Local Leaders Can Push Forward on Sustainable Procurement

sustainable procurement

Local officials leading on climate action now have access to an operations tool to help them achieve their goals, starting with sustainable procurement.

According to a new guide released by the Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (CCSP), buyers, suppliers and community stakeholders can work together when selecting and purchasing more responsible and sustainable goods and services from suppliers.

With COP26 generating even more debate about how society can take on climate change, the guide’s release is timely. After all, sustainable procurement requires long-term thinking of where materials are coming from, their impacts on natural resources, how much packaging they consume and the labor conditions in which these goods were produced. With the buying power that municipalities and their suppliers together hold, tacking procurement through a sustainability lens can help drive bolder climate action.

The bottom line is that if integrated across purchasing processes and local government projects, sustainable procurement can become one important tool in helping fight climate change.

The guide’s authors insist that conversations surrounding sustainable procurement must take place at the municipal level – the numbers themselves tell the story, as in Canada alone such purchases total into the tens of billions of dollars. Through its guide, CCSP aims to educate communities and local officials about how to drive new pilot projects and programs for sustainable procurement.

Why sustainable procurement absolutely matters

"Sustainable procurement is important because it is perhaps the singular function within a large organization that has the ability to simultaneously drive multiple sustainability priorities, green priorities, social priorities, economic development priorities [and] risks priorities,” said Tim Reeve, Managing Director of CCSP, during a recent interview with TriplePundit. 

This process can be beneficial for businesses because it is cost-efficient, can create a competitive advantage and helps businesses meet existing regulatory compliance – while not necessary increasing costs. However, engaging both suppliers and buyers on any matter related to sustainable procurement is a complex task. This is especially true as city officials already face arduous challenges when implementing sustainable procurement procedures, according to the guide’s authors. The challenges often include a difficult budgetary process, increasing demands for services from local citizens, and meeting local stakeholders’ expectations related to sustainability.

Three myths about sustainable procurement

Common myths about sustainable procurement can thwart any progress. The guide’s authors discredit this first myth: Sustainable goods and services are more expensive by explaining that the lifecycle of a purchased product or service outweighs the overall cost of ownership. Investments in sustainable procurement aren’t as costly as presumed. In fact, raw materials represent a small portion of the final product price: specifically, no more than 1 to 4 percent quarterly.

Another common myth that the guide’s authors rebut is any assumption that more sustainable options currently in the market are either largely unavailable or effective. The demand for more sustainable products is growing and these products and services often perform strongly. In fact, online searches for sustainable goods have increased by 71 percent since 2016 and global media coverage of environmental issues increased by 7 percent between 2016 and 2018.

Common myths of sustainable procurement don't only extend to demand or price, but time as well. The guide's authors dispute the notion that sustainable procurement is time consuming, as they explain that any tools local officials need for implementation are already available and can also help meet their municipalities’ needs.

All eyes on everyone 

While the CCSP developed this sustainable procurement guide as a call to action for local governments and CEOs, Reeve told 3p that it also targets other players.

Reeve explained to 3p that for any sustainability plan to succeed, all departments within an organization must participate. “Organizations have discovered that they can only get so far on their core pillar programing, those zero waste programs, carbon neutral programs, economic development programs, etcetera,” said Reeve. These programs are interconnected with operations and supply chains. And, he added, procurement can help break down silos that can develop between various departments. 

In addition to the CCSP’s 10-point framework, the guide’s authors recommend specific actions that staff can take to implement sustainability programs. For example, a department’s employees can pursue sustainability opportunities during purchasing. Meanwhile, suppliers and vendors can engage in training and contribute to data collection when requested by buyers. These actions are critical to tackling two major challenges of the sustainable procurement process: data collection and measurement.

Quantifying results to demonstrate impact

“I think there needs to be much more work done on measuring the impacts of sustainable procurement efforts and just measuring sustainable procurement activity overall,” said Reeve. He explained to 3p that there are two ways to do this. The first is questioning whether organizations are buying in accordance with their policies and procedures. This includes valuing sustainability challenges when placing competitive bids and evaluating suppliers. The second is ensuring better measurement of these efforts. Such data points include quantifying decreases in emissions, reductions in wasted packaging and any resulting job creation. 

Though the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes procurement practices, only 24 countries up till 2020 reported having regulatory and legal tools for this in place. Indeed, there is much work left to do. With the best possible measurement and indicators in place, a call to action can kick off the necessary pilot projects and investments for sustainable procurement.

Image credit Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

Rasha Rehman headshotRasha Rehman

Rasha is a Toronto-based freelance journalist with experience in communications and publicity. She is passionate about storytelling for impact. 

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