2012 – A Turning Point in Municipal Sustainable Purchasing in Canada

Sustainable purchasing is gaining ground in the Canadian municipal sector as municipalities realize its contribution to existing ‘green’ objectives, such as zero waste and climate neutrality, and corporate ones, such as risk management or operational efficiency. As a relatively new practice within the Canadian public sector, many municipalities are reaching out to their peers to share resources on sustainable purchasing. A cross-country peer network that is a front-runner in setting new benchmarks and best practices in sustainable purchasing in Canada is the Municipal Collaboration on Sustainable Purchasing (MCSP).

The MCSP, for which Reeve Consulting serves as secretariat and technical expert, allows municipalities to share sustainable purchasing lessons, best practices, “tricks of the trade”, and other resources to fast-track their individual programs. The group recently launched a publication co-authored by Reeve on, ‘The State of Municipal Sustainable Procurement in Canada’. Through consultations with MCSP participants and extensive literature review, the study reports on the current state of municipal sustainable procurement in Canada.

The study found that 2012 was an important year for municipalities with many strategically approaching their programs:

  • In response to increased staffing and resource constraints, municipalities enhanced their collaboration with MCSP peer and other agencies and strategically leveraged existing relationships and shared resources
  • Inter-departmental collaborations were also strengthened especially between Procurement and Sustainability. Other departments were also engaged via, for example the formation of inter-department green teams, to increase program buy-in and instill behavioural change on municipal spending
  • Greater focus on implementation. Recognizing that it takes 2 to 5 years to form a comprehensive program, many municipalities took a dual-track approach, dividing resources between building program elements and targeting key contracts such as copy paper (that has a mature sustainability market)

Overall, 2012 is considered to be a turning point in municipal sustainable procurement in Canada due to the focus on collaboration. Next year, municipalities have reported that they will be implementing their programs more widely and developing measurement and reporting frameworks. With insufficient levels in their resource pools, forming stronger and wider collaborations for sustainable purchasing will be more important than ever.

>> Download a full copy of the 2012 State of Municipal Sustainable Purchasing report from the Resources page.

To learn more about the MCSP, contact Tim Reeve @:                           tim@reeveconsulting.com or by phone at 604-763-6829.

New SustainAbility Report: Signed, Sealed…Delivered? behind certifications and beyond labels

We recently came across an interesting report from SustainAbility titled Signed, Sealed…Delivered? Behind Certifications and Beyond Labels, which explores the value and challenges that business find in using sustainability certifications and labels to improve economic, environmental and social outcomes across global value chains.

We’re sure this report will be of interest to sustainability supply chain stakeholders, both those looking to use ecolabels to drive specification in their procurement activities and those interested in applying certifications to their own private label products. Everyone agrees we need more science-based data to make good green decisions. Certifications and labels are an important part of that journey.

Recognizing that certification, labeling and the standards-setting organizations behind them have been pioneers in building a more sustainable economy, SustainAbility undertook this research to examine what could be learned from the eco-labelling landscape about how to improve supply chain impact, increase trust among value chain partners and change customer and consumer behavior. Further, how these lessons could help inform the scaling of sustainability overall.

The final report outlines some top challenges, key findings and a vision for how sustainability labels need to evolve in the future to better serve businesses and society.

The full report is available for free on the SustainAbility website. There’s also a short summary video that provides a concise overview of the findings.

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

How to navigate the field of ecolabels to improve your ethical and sustainable purchasing practices

With close to 400 ecolabels available in the marketplace, selecting the ones that fit your sustainable purchasing program (or simply a weekend trip to the grocery store) can often seem confusing, frustrating or even risky. And since ecolabels aren’t created equal when it comes to environmental claims and third party verification, corporate purchasers and consumers often fall victim to “analysis paralysis”; potentially giving up altogether on their intentions to buy green due to their confusion and uncertainty of real benefit.

In Reeve Consulting’s first “how to” post, we’ll be examining how this sometimes confusing world of ecolabels can be broken down into smaller, more ‘bite-sized’ pieces to help you make your procurements green and at the same time feel confident you understand the environmental benefits you’re receiving. We’ll also provide links to a number of useful resources to further assist with your environmental and sustainable purchasing.

A quick introduction to ecolabels

Ecolabels provide information about the environmental and social impacts associated with the production or use of a product or service. They’re a helpful tool for individual consumers, but also for corporate purchasing staff as they reduce the onus of creating environmental or sustainability product specifications. They can also offer credible third-party verification of environmental claims.

Types of ecolabels

While the bad news is that there are hundreds of ecolabels to choose from, the good news is that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed a system whereby the universe of ecolables can be broken down into three more manageable categories. These are:

  • Type I Ecolabels: ISO 14024 – Ecolabels in this category are based on environmental criteria selected by an independent third party entity. Criteria are typically developed for a specific product type (for example, personal computers or monitors). Products must be certified to these criteria through a third party entity to be allowed to display the ecolabel.
  • Type II Ecolabels: ISO 14021 – Type II Ecolabels include any kind of sustainable declaration made by manufacturers, importers, distributors or anyone else who is likely to benefit from the product’s environmental claims. Also referred to as “self-declarations”, ecolabels in this category are usually not independently verified by a third party entity. They should however meet ‘truth-in-advertising’ or other product claim standards.
  • Type III Ecolabels: ISO 14025 –These ecolabels include comprehensive data lists that give environmental and social information on a product throughout its life-cycle (similar to nutrition labels on food).  Type III independent bodies set the categories of information and verify the data given, but no specific criteria have to be satisfied in order to qualify for certification. This category of ecolabels is also referred to as “Environmental Product Declarations” (EPD).

While all three types of ecolabels provide relevant information and are worth considering, Type I ecolabels are most widely available, easy to identify and certified by a third party entity. Type II ecolabels are viewed as less credible since they’re not independently verified and aren’t required to meet specific standards. For example, popular terms like “natural” found on product labels are wide open to interpretation. Type III labels on the other hand often involve thorough lifecycle assessment of product materials and third-party verification. The challenge with Type III ecolabels is that they’re not widely available in North America.

Segmentation by product category, industry and geography

Beyond these categories, ecolabels can be further segmented by product category, industry and geography. Put another way, when purchasing a given product one doesn’t actually choose from 400 ecolabels, but a smaller subset that applies to the product in question.

Ecolabelindex.com

A useful tool for determining the ecoloable type and category as outlined above is ecoloabelindex.com, an online database that offers the largest global directory of ecolabels. The site offers a free search tool that anyone can use to look up a specific ecolabel and find out the range of product it covers, verification process (e.g. third party verified) and region where it’s available.

Recently ecolabelindex.com started offering an additional paid subscription service that provides users with access to over 60 data points on each ecolabel, including life cycle coverage, standard development, conformity assessment and more. Pro users also have access to improved search functionality including the ability to filter ecolabels by sector, region and audience, compare ecoloabel attributes side-by-side and integrate the Index data with one’s own tools and platforms through the Ecolabel Index API. Subscription tiers are available for small and large teams, all include a free 7-day trial run. We suggest you check out the full details on the Eco Label Index website.

Read more

Who set the standards for ecolabels? Reeve Consulting Blog

Are there too many ecolabels? Reeve Consulting Blog

Sustainable purchasing and ecolabels Product with Purpose Fairware Blog

The Sins of Greenwashing: home and family edition 2010 TerraChoice & Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

Are there too many eco-labels and green ratings?

Flickr / Jeff Keen

This is a good question and one we hear often at Reeve Consulting. In a recent article on GreenBiz.com, Joshua Saunders of GoodGuide tackles this issue and presents some valuable insights.

With over 300 eco-labels in the global marketplace, and more being added each year, manufacturers, businesses and consumers are faced with increasingly complex decisions when it comes to green ratings.

To simplify ecolabel decisions, Saunders suggests an oligopoly of labeling organizations with larger barriers to entry is needed. Essentially a handful of credible certification programs, labels and rating systems to dominate the market. A distinction is made between this and a “one choice” market, with Saunders stressing the importance of competition between ecolabels to fuel transparency, rigor, credibility, service and price.

Greenbiz.com

In fact it seems we’re not far from an ecolabel market dominated by a few suppliers. As Saunders rightly describes, ecolabels are segmented by product category, industry and geography. When purchasing a product, one doesn’t actually choose from 300 ecolabels, but a smaller subset that applies to the product in question.

Saunders also explains that, while more ecolabels are being introduced each year, more consolidation is taking place among the labeling organizations.  An example of this is the recent acquisition of the Canadian certification program TerraChoice by UL. This is exciting news, and we’re interested to learn about the next steps for Terra Choice when we connect with our colleagues Scott McDougall and Angela Griffiths.

Saunders article ends by stating there’s little doubt that the sustainable labeling field is moving towards greater collaboration and consolidation.  That’s good news because ecolabels are becoming an increasingly important tool for corporate and consumer purchasing. Everyone will benefit from more credible labeling and rating systems.

Read Joshua Saunders full article HERE.