Advancing the Circular Economy through Procurement

Advancing the Circular Economy through Procurement


The CCSP held its 3rd Peer Exchange of the year in May, placing the spotlight on circularity and procurement. The webinar delved into the principles and practices of a circular economy and highlighted two stories from CCSP members. This included an innovative furniture reuse program at UBC and a look at how the PC Provincial health Authority (PHSA) is putting Reusables First. 

Circularity & Procurement

The current economy operates on a linear model, known as the take-make-waste system, where resources are extracted, products are made, and waste is generated. While this model has driven societal development, it has also led to overconsumption and unsustainable growth. To address this, we need to shift to a circular economy, where materials are continuously reused, and natural systems are preserved. This approach not only mitigates climate change but also combats biodiversity loss and pollution by decoupling economic activity from the consumption of new, finite resources.

It is critical that people working in procurement teams of large or small organizations make it part of their jobs to integrate sustainability into the decisions they make.

The 4 flows of circularity provide a framework for materials flow:

  • Use less: Evaluate the necessity of new purchases and explore alternatives such as reusing existing resources or opting for refurbished items.
  • Use longer: Extend the lifespan of products to minimize resource extraction and waste generation.
  • Use again: Facilitate the reuse or recycling of materials to prevent them from ending up in landfills.
  • Make clean: Prioritize products crafted using renewable, biodegradable, or recycled materials, minimizing environmental impact throughout their lifecycle.

The following are 2 success stories that prove how Canadian organizations are starting to adopt circular principles when procuring.

Giving Old Furniture New Life: UBC’s Reuse Initiative

Rachel Donovan, coordinator of the Reuse initiative at the University of British Columbia, discussed their Furniture Reuse program. She explained that UBC identified a gap in furniture reuse due to departmental silos. Some departments were discarding furniture while others needed it, but there was no communication between them, leading to unnecessary purchases and disposals. The program aims to bridge this gap by connecting departments in need of furniture with those looking to dispose of it. The initiative has brought environmental, economic, social, and institutional benefits by extending the life of furniture and reducing the costs of purchasing new items. The program supports UBC’s Climate and Waste Reduction targets; it has kept over 2000 items from the landfill, and its estimated that by not buying new furniture, they have saved 135 tons of CO2 emissions.

Key lessons from the program:

  • Furniture quality impacts whether you can reuse an item.
  • Items with commercial grade and warranties or repair services might be more expensive initially but are better in the long term.
  • Assigning a dollar value to surplus furniture helps with cost recovery and distinguishes wants from needs.


Making Reusable Options the Default: PHSA and Vancouver Coastal Health “Reusables First” Initiative

Marianne Dawson, sustainability advisor on procurement at PHSA, discussed the principles of circularity and its application in healthcare. She highlighted their “Reusables First” initiative, which prioritizes reusable products during the procurement process. The objective of the initiative is to make reusable options the default choice and only resort to single-use items when necessary. The initiative began with a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health and PHSA to assemble a coalition of partners from various departments to collaborate, map out processes, identify opportunities, and review RFP questions to create a comprehensive Sustainable Procurement Program.

One of the program’s success stories is the implementation of reusable sharps waste containers. Previously, all BC hospitals used disposable plastic sharps containers that ended up in landfills. In 2019, PHSA issued an RFP for biohazardous waste pickup services, incorporating sustainability criteria. One proposal featured an innovative reusable sharps container solution, which ultimately secured the contract. This solution diverted thousands of plastic containers from landfills, resulted in cost savings, and reduced needlestick injuries by 87%.

Key lessons from the Initiative:

  • Adapting communication for various stakeholders is crucial for success.
  • Embedding sustainability roles in key departments accelerates the initiatives.
  • Including sustainability questions in RFPs is crucial for procuring more sustainable goods and services.
  • Understand where the existing interest is located within the organization and do not make assumptions about roles and responsibilities.

As these initiatives demonstrate, the journey to circularity is not without its challenges. Yet, through collective action and unwavering commitment, we can pave the way towards a more sustainable and resilient future.


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