Exploring the Unique Partnership Between Procurement and Sustainability
Does one plus one equal three? In the case of the powerful partnership between procurement and sustainability departments, the answer is a resounding yes! Read on to find out how these two groups are greater than the sum of their parts.
Procurement practitioners have a lot on their plates – they are the facilitator between internal business units and the products and services those business units need. They’re balancing procurement rules and regulations, supply chain disruptions, tight timelines and budgets, and at the same time they are being asked to consider complex issues like accessibility and sustainability. But this is exactly why procurement should be seen as a highly strategic function of an organization – and they shouldn’t have to act alone either.
Sustainable procurement is often found at the side of someone’s desk, with ad-hoc pilot projects fragmented across an organization, especially when it doesn’t have organized intent and resources behind it. When acting in silo’s, sustainability as well as procurement professionals might feel like their wheels are spinning and they’re not getting much farther ahead. That said, we know that procurement is a leverage point from which organizations can drive top-level sustainability objectives and working together enables greater chances of positive impact.
So, on June 9th the CCSP sat down with procurement and sustainability professionals from two leading institutions, BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC) and Simon Fraser University (SFU), plus France Edmunds, Head of Sustainable Impact at HP, to dive into this conversation on internal collaboration and what can be achieved from it.
Setting the Scene
Frances kicked things off, reminding us of a few important messages:
- Public institutions must give more points to sustainability evaluation criteria if they really want to leverage their market influence and effect change on pressing environmental and social issues.
- Evaluation should focus on a supplier’s own corporate sustainability leadership practices in addition to the products or services they provide.
- Procurement professionals often don’t feel they have responsibility for supporting an organization’s sustainability objectives; so, a multi-level collaborative approach is much needed.
- Collaboration between sustainability and procurement professionals creates better capacity to set relevant criteria and avoid greenwashing, thus signaling suppliers to do better.
Diving into the Discussion
Our panel this year included Karen Jensen, Director of Corporate Procurement and Jim Gudjonson, Manager of Sustainability Innovation from BCLC and Laura Simonsen, Major Procurement Contracts Officer and Rita Steele, Manager of Campus Sustainability from SFU. If you missed the session, here are some not-to-be-missed highlights:
How did the relationship between your two groups start and what does your collaboration look like now?
SFU procurement and sustainability first started working together on a zero-waste committee to decrease waste from the campus going to landfill. Now, multiple committees focussing on different sustainable procurement topics have been created and act as the main source and hub for their ability to collaborate.
BCLC procurement and sustainability first came together over the topic of shared metrics. They have now developed a true partnership with joint advocacy, particularly on policy work, as well as collaborative training and participation on the ESG committee.
The procurement group at both institutions will review upcoming bids and bring in sustainability as needed to provide their expertise on specific procurements.
How has working together added value to the organization and enabled you to achieve things you wouldn’t have alone?
In less than a year of working together, Jim and Karen at BCLC were able to advocate for the hiring of an FTE to fully focus on sustainable procurement. They were able to showcase what they could be doing with more resources versus what they were able to do at the time. The partnership at BCLC also enabled an investment on electric vehicles which would not have been possible without the cost benefit analysis support from procurement, which ultimately resulted in a convergence of sustainability and finance objectives.
SFU has found that working together adds credibility to initiatives on both sides. While sustainability holds the strategic vision, procurement can then provide specific data, vendor knowledge, and access to many contacts throughout the organization. One project that wouldn’t have been possible at SFU without this collaboration, is the developing of an online SFU marketplace for recirculating surplus goods. While sustainability is driving this initiative, they leaned on procurement to share knowledge on the various procurement processes across the organization and how this Marketplace platform can fit.
What would you recommend to other organizations wanting to increase their collaboration?
- Start somewhere. Choose one operational project (ex. a zero-waste initiative) to get the conversation going.
- The time now is ripe for change. Take advantage of evolving sustainability and ESG policies to also update procurement policies and use this time to have conversations on common goals that lead into your top-level corporate strategies.
- Set-up regular meetings with each other. Either one on one or through committee work, which create points where you’re regularly talking and engaging.
- Invest in co-development. Invite one another to learn about each other’s priorities and processes and commit to supporting common initiatives.
A huge thank-you to our panelists, and supporting partner HP Canada, for showing us how the partnership between sustainability and procurement can be a powerful force within an organization!
WRITTEN BY: AMANDA CHOUINARD, PROGRAM MANAGER AT THE CANADIAN COLLABORATION FOR SUSTAINABLE PROCUREMENT (CCSP)