Key tips & resources for effectively measuring sustainable purchasing programs

Flickr / Pink Sherbert

How many times have we heard it, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”? It’s  a management consulting mantra that is repeated so often you could almost tune it out.

“Yes, of course” we affirm to our peers and colleagues. But inwardly most of us would agree that developing good key performance indicators (KPI’s) and accurate tracking mechanisms are generally underdeveloped across the triple bottom line, and definitely in their infancy when it comes to sustainable purchasing.

Yet the reality is that metrics are a key success factor in building out a solid sustainable purchasing program, providing a clear indication of program strengths, weaknesses, and by extension, areas for future development and improvement.

Nonetheless, at Reeve Consulting our experience has been that the development and measurement of quality metrics is often overlooked or identified as a future priority.

We know clients face organizational challenges to implementing quality measurement systems, such as a prioritization of policy and procedure at the expense of performance tracking, or difficulty measuring the ‘green-ess’ of products and suppliers, which can be time intensive and confusing. Further, traditional accounting systems often don’t consider sustainability measures.

While we won’t attempt to address all these issues in a single blog post, some of our recent work has us compiling a set of useful resources for developing customized metrics for sustainable purchasing reporting and management systems, both for measuring overall program performance and specific aspects – such as purchasing categories (e.g. vehicles). We’ve shared a collection of these below.

To get started, we’ve also created a short list of key tips for developing effective metrics, which we encourage our clients to consider at the outset.

Key Tips for Developing Effective Metrics:


  1. Link to corporate sustainability initiatives – An important step in customizing a set of metrics is to ensure they are linked to corporate sustainability objectives and reporting systems. For example, if your corporation is concerned with minimizing waste, then sustainable purchasing metrics should include performance measures related to the amount of waste diverted by buying products with reusable or reduced packaging.
  1. Realistic to measure – Also, ensure that you will be able to realistically measure the outcomes of all metrics overtime. Building on the earlier example, if waste reduction is measured at the corporate level, set a metric that requires measurement of packaging reduction in a few product categories, rather than all product categories, the latter being more time consuming and difficult to measure.
  1. Plan to expand – Don’t get bogged down in the development stage by trying to define a comprehensive set of metrics and reporting processes. Plan to expand your metrics and performance reporting with time. Start with realistic metrics to ensure early success in reporting.

 Helpful Resources for Developing Customized Metrics


   Metrics for tracking at the Sustainable Purchasing Program Level

  • The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provides high-level performance indicators that have been adopted by many corporations across the globe. You can also view the GRI Product Responsibility Indicator guide HERE. You may want to align your tracking and reporting systems with relevant GRI metrics.
  • Kaiser Permanente, a USA-based healthcare organization that Reeve Consulting has interviewed on a few occasions around their best practices, has recently developed the PS Annual EPP Success Story Achievements document that outlines the metrics they’re tracking and reporting with regards to EPP (environmental preferable purchasing). This includes metrics for vehicles and office IT equipment.

   Metrics for tracking impacts at the Product Level

  • Third-party Ecolabel standards can also be used to identify metrics. For example, the key environmental attributes (e.g. toxicity, material utilization) of the individual standards developed by Canada’s EcoLogo program for different products could be used to determine what you track for specific product categories, such as office equipment, furniture, etc. The Responsible Purchasing Network has outlined a detailed list of other third-party ecolabel standards that you may want to consider.
  • The Responsible Purchasing Network also has a wide variety of calculators that can be used to measure the impacts of your sustainable purchasing practices. They are product specific. It is recommended that you try using existing online calculators to help you measure the impacts of specific product categories as a starting point. For example, they have an Office Electronics Calculator, so you may want to develop metrics for this product category, knowing there is a calculator in place to help you assess outcomes.
  • E3 Fleet Rating is designed to evaluate and recognize performance, and allows fleets to be rated at the Bronze, Silver or Gold level of performance. E3 Fleet Rating uses a point-based Rating System Checklist for rating fleet performance, with points for fleet management practices and energy/emissions performance.
  • Look to your suppliers to help develop reasonable metrics. Many of your suppliers may already be tracking the environmental impacts of their products. Consult them to learn what data they can provide and then set metrics related to this data. For example, Cascades is tracking valuable data related to their paper products (e.g. tissue) that could be used to measure the impacts of buying more green cleaning products. As the following link shows, Cascades can provide data for water usage, recycled content in packaging, reduction in the use of trees, etc. that is related to the products they manufacture. Click HERE for details.

On the Air: using sport to accelerate sustainability

Flickr / woolennium

This week’s Green with Envy radio show focused on using sport to accelerate sustainability. As described by host Peter ter Weeme:

“We all know that sports and physical activity are important to maintaining good health, developing teamwork skills, and fostering relationships and understanding between people and cultures. But there’s a new benefit that’s emerging – a global movement around sport and sustainability. From baseball diamonds to major sporting events, action is being taken to gain a better understanding of the impact sporting events have on the environment, provide inspiration and tools for teams and venues to make changes to reduce that impact, and engage more people in the benefits of sport. Tune into this week’s edition of Green With Envy to hear more about the people making it happen.”

The show started with a topical discussion between host Peter ter Weeme, Tim Reeve and Ann Duffy focused on their experiences integrating sustainability into the delivery of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games.

Later in the show, Rosalyn Morrison, Chair of the Ontario Summer Games Legacy Committee, shared insights on incorporating sustainability into Toronto’s upcoming Ontario Summer Games and 2015 Pan Am Games. Allen Herschkowitz, board member of the Green Sports Alliance gave some compelling information on the enormous eco-footprint of sporting events followed by some innovative examples of green stadium operations and potential for environmental and financial savings.

Tune in – full audio from the show can be streamed from the Green with Envy website HERE.

Sustainable Supply Chains Tops Fall Dialogue Agenda

Whether it’s Apple’s recent woes around supply chain or new innovations at LEGO around sustainable packaging it’s clear that sustainable purchasing and sustainable supply chains continue to be hot topics.

Retailers, sport organizations, major brands and all levels of government want to use the potential of sustainable purchasing to drive key business strategies around supplier engagement, eco-efficiency, social responsibility, brand, employee engagement and risk. With this recognition, industry professionals are looking for the latest trends and key insights on sustainable supply chains.

This fall, a number of high profile Canadian events are addressing this need, inviting professionals to come together to discuss their experiences, learn from leading experts and initiate the dialogue key to navigating this complex field. At Reeve Consulting, we’re looking forward to continuing to contribute to these conversations and hear first hand from thought leaders and innovators.

Green with Envy Radio Show, September 15 @ 10:00 AM


Join us for the Green with Envy radio show at 10:00AM PST on September 15. Of particular interest to sports organizations, we’ll be discussing sustainable sport supply chains with host Peter ter Weeme and Ann Duffy, former Director of Sustainability for Vancouver 2010 and Principal of the Ann Duffy Group.

We’re also headed to two major conferences, which we encourage you to consider attending if you’re in the Toronto or Vancouver area.

International Symposium on Supply Chain Management, September 18-20, Toronto 


Hosted by the Purchasing Management Association of Canada, this annual two-day symposium invites academic researchers and supply chain leaders to review, research, share ideas and develop solutions to critical supply chain issues.

An innovative and inspiring event featuring thought-leaders from around the world, we’re looking forward to lively exchanges of information and experience.

The morning of September 20, Tim will be providing attendees with a closer look at the development of the Sochi 2014 BuySmart Program as a case study in sport organization sustainability. The session will be of particular interest to attendees concerned with how such a program can support brand building, reduce environmental impacts, promote responsible business and improve employee engagement.

Conference on Environmental, Social and Governance Issues, October 3-4, Vancouver


Presented by the Chartered Accountants of Canada, this two-day event will focus on current environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues relevant to directors, corporate leaders, senior management and business advisors looking to manage risk, report effectively and take advantage of emerging opportunities.

Tim will be moderating a panel discussion titled Sustainable Supply Chain: How ESG may impact your supply chain or you as a supplier. The session will feature presenters from Mountain Equipment Co-op and WorkSafe BC with the aim of helping attendees understand how to manage supply chain risks and seize opportunities around their brand and sustainability.

The practitioner-based panel session and ensuing conversation will focus on ‘real world’ examples and practical insights targeted at senior level business leaders interested in how the supply chain can be a key lever point for corporate sustainability programs as well as how risks and opportunities can have major impacts on business strategies, financial results, employee engagement and customer relationships

Environmental and Sustainable Purchasing Workshop, October 18, Whitehorse


We’re also keen to find out how the field of sustainable purchasing is progressing in the North of the country and will be headed to Whitehorse in mid-October to deliver the Environmental and Sustainable Purchasing Workshop.

Drawing representatives from four levels of government – federal, territorial, municipal and aboriginal – this workshop will focus on trends and best practices in the field of sustainable purchasing and how to apply basic tools to engage with existing vendors to maximize environmental outcomes.

Working with a local steering committee, our aim is to explore ways to expand sustainable purchasing in the North and build the capacity of purchasing staff.

Stay tuned for local purchasing event details


Finally, we’re looking forward to a Vancouver-based event at the end of October being organized by LOCOBC and the BuySmart Network focused on local purchasing.

Check back for details as they become available.

Message from Earth: Organic Matters

This week we’re bringing you a re-post from our friends at Fairware, a distributor of ethical and sustainable promotional products. Reading some of the latest posts on the Product with Purpose blog, we were particularly taken with the following video by Fairware supplier Anvil Organics. Highlighting the sustainability merits of organic over conventional cotton, we thought it was a nice summary of the issue and of particular relevance to our readers considering sustainable programming for uniforms, corporate gifts and give-aways.

We were impressed by this digital short created by one of our suppliers, Anvil Knitwear. The short video released at Farm Aid 25 last October, highlights the impacts of pesticide use on the environment and farmers, encouraging consumers to support organic farming practices.

Anvil Knitwear has made a commitment to double organic cotton production in the US through an agreement with the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative. Along with Disney LLC, they’re hoping to encourage conventional cotton farmers to switch to organic methods by offering a premium for their yield.  Anvil will also purchase any of the cotton making the transition to organic at a price close to that offered for organic. Read more about Anvil’s project to plant the seeds of change HERE.

Fairware is proud to carry a full line of Anvil organic apparel. Browse our site or contact us for more information.

New Research Helping Define the “Sustainability Consumer”

This week we’re bringing you a re-post from our colleagues at Ecolabel Index, an online database that offers the largest global directory of ecolabels.

With raw data showing demand for greener products staying robust in spite of a major recession, researchers are working to question old assumptions about who sustainability consumers are and how they behave. Recently, we have learned about a number of innovative studies, including researching online auction behaviour, that are helping to get a more accurate read on this audience.

Perhaps the most comprehensive is a new primer by Dr. Remi Trudel of Boston U. and released by The Network for Business Sustainability that analysed 91 different studies to understand if consumers will pay more for sustainable products. Interestingly, the answer is yes, and the average premiums being paid are 10%. This is contrary to prevailing wisdom that consumers are not willing to pay a premium for environmental and social goods.

Regardless, a gap continues to exist between the number of consumers with good intentions and the number who actually make greener purchases. What is behind that gap? According to this work, the main issues are:

  1. Confusion about the product’s sustainability benefits,
  2. Confusing packaging,
  3. Trade-offs required to buy the product (like a price premium), and
  4. Competition between brands.

One of the recommendations for future research is to investigate when and how much companies should communicate their sustainability performance given the risk of being called greenwashers due to over-promoting and the abundance of information now available at people’s fingertips.

We agree more research is needed, and are interested in what benefits consumers value most and whether those benefits match up with the sustainability needs further up the value chain.

In the short term the sector can take action to more clearly communicate to sustainability consumers:

  1. List a product’s specific sustainability benefits (what makes it better?)
  2. State the amount that benefit costs (how much more am I paying for that? 5%? 15%?)

Two simple steps that could help grow a market.

Social Accountability 8000 training session postponed

Flickr / *Micky

A few weeks ago we posted a blog inviting you to join us for an SA8000 training session in Vancouver at the end of August. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, this session has been postponed until late fall/early winter 2011. The new dates will be announced by Social Accountability International (SAI) shortly.

The date of the associated networking event, organized by Reeve Consulting, will also be shifted to take place during the re-scheduled SA8000 training week.

Details will be announced here as they become available so please check back. If you’d like more information in the meantime, please contact Kevin McCarty at kevin@reeveconsulting.com

Announcing Reeve’s ReSOURCE: sustainable purchasing insights from the Reeve Consulting Team

Reeve's ReSOURCEThe most recent edition of our new e-newsletter, Reeve’s ReSOURCE, was recently circulated. If you missed it in your inbox, you can view a copy HERE.

Through this newsletter we’re offering useful insight in sustainable supply chain trends, innovations, key findings from industry sector reports and provocative opinions.

We want Reeve’s ReSOURCE to be more than just a hub of what we’re tracking in the fast moving world of responsible purchasing and ethical sourcing. We also want to answer your key questions and incorporate your best practices, making it a dynamic resource for sustainable supply chain executives and managers.

View a couple previous editions HERE. If you like what you see, sign-up HERE to have future editions delivered directly to your inbox.

We really appreciate you feedback on the newsletter and our projects, so please let us know what you think by sending an email to tim@reeveconsulting.com, or posting a comment below.

Reeve Insights from Sustainable Brands 2011

Flickr / kevincole

Corporate America was out in full force at Sustainable Brands 2011 (#SB11) recently held in Monterey, CA, and so were we!

Bringing together concepts of business strategy, sustainability and innovation, the 4-day event focused on the connections between sustainability as a driver of product design as well as a mechanism for engaging with customers and employees.

We had a great time, made some wonderful connections and were exposed to inspiring initiatives and concepts in the realm of corporate social responsibility.

Below we’ve summarized a few of our insights.

Sustainability case studies – a closer look at some inspiring initiatives

While the week was full of inspiring sustainability stories, there were a few case studies that particularly stood out for us (click on the links for more information).

  • Panera Bread, pay-what-you-can model – This American restaurant chain allows customers to choose the amount they pay for their meals. CEO Ronald Shaich shared that 20% of his customers pay more than the suggested donation while 20% leave less. By opening stores in diverse communities, Shaich has found higher-income people will offset the costs for their lower-income neighbours.
  • Hewlitt Packard, building the energy-smart home – Taking a closer look at home energy management, HP Labs has developed sensing technology and a cloud-based application that clearly illustrates a home’s energy use, allowing homeowners to easily monitor and manage energy consumption from their dishwasher to TV.
  • Nike, better world project – Earlier this year Nike launched the website nikebetterworld.com which highlights the company’s green programs such as the use of environmentally preferred rubber, jerseys made from recycled bottles, responsible packaging and more. The site also highlights the value of sport for addressing social issues, like HIV AIDS, obesity, even war.

Supply chains are a sustainability starting point

Supply chains were a prominent topic of discussion throughout the event and we were pleased to hear our colleagues recognizing supply chains as a key starting point for driving sustainability both vertically, through a business, and horizontally with customers.

One of the most encouraging supply chain initiatives we heard about was the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the goal of which is to improve the sustainability of apparel and footwear products by developing an industry-wide index for businesses to measure and evaluate their products’ social and environmental impacts. By pooling resources and knowledge, member companies hope to develop more sophisticated and uniform tools for evaluating their supply chains and engaging with suppliers on improvements. Founding members include Patagonia, Nike, Levis, Gap Inc., Mountain Equipment Co-op, Environmental Defense Fund and many others spread across North America, Asia, Europe and the U.K.

Collaboration is making sustainability initiatives stronger

As demonstrated by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, we found that collaboration was a strong theme throughout the event.

We attended a great session by Bonnie Nixon, Executive Director of the Sustainability Consortium, a mixed-discipline group that develops READ MORE

Who do you want to hear from? Call for guest speaker suggestions

Reeve Consulting is partnering with Social Accountability International to deliver SA8000 training, August 22-26 at SFUSocial Accountability International (SAI) Harbourfront in Vancouver.

A fantastic opportunity to develop your expertise in managing CSR initiatives, SA8000 is the leading global social accountability standard for decent working conditions and labour rights. This week-long training will provide practical knowledge on the main issues of social auditing and performance and is targeted at a wide audience including sustainability directors, brand managers, auditors, NGO and government staff, among others.

fork, knife, spoon

Flickr / Tanel Peets

In conjunction with the training, we’ll be hosting a dinner and networking event on August 25.  The event will include a guest speaker who will share their extensive experience in global supply chain compliance and implementation of supplier codes of conduct.

In preparation for this networking event, we’re requesting your input:

If there were one person we could bring to Vancouver this year to speak about responsible sourcing, ethical consumerism and sustainable supply chains, who would you like to hear from?

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All answers will be kept private to the Reeve Consulting team.

Thank you in advance for your input!

Sustainable Purchasing Video demonstrates new media opportunities for staff communication & training

Engaging staff in the art and science of sustainable purchasing is a challenge for any organization – so we were thrilled to see this short video from the City of Edmonton (a Reeve Consulting client) which is a great example of staff communication techniques and a cost-effective approach to making green and sustainable purchasing meaningful and tangible for City employees.

The 4 minute video is targeted at administrative and general office staff across the organization and it communicates 3 simple sustainable purchasing guidelines. The video and outreach campaign is part of a broader communication and training strategy that was developed by Reeve Consulting for the City of Edmonton as part of the City’s new comprehensive green and ethical purchasing program that is considering the social and environmental effects of their more than $1 billion annual spend.

Featuring faces from across Edmonton’s municipal departments (including the City’s mayor!), the video explains why selecting products that are environmentally responsible, ethically sourced and feature minimal packaging, helps save money, improve efficiencies and make the City of Edmonton’s operations more sustainable.

Watch the short video on the City of Edmonton’s website by clicking the image below.

City of Edmonton sustainable purchasing video

Click on the image to view the full video at edmonton.ca