How to bring your sustainable procurement plans and policies to life
Public sector organizations across Canada have levelled up their commitment to green, social, ethical, and Indigenous purchasing in 2020 with dozens of new plans and policies. For example, Halifax Regional Municipality approved a new social policy in May, City of Whitehorse updated their procurement policy to include sustainability in August, City of Victoria updated their bylaws to including new social procurement and Living Wage considerations in February, and BCLC and the City of Nanaimo created comprehensive sustainable procurement implementation plans from June to August, just to name a few. Many public sector organizations, however, are not yet equipped to ensure widespread adoption and operationalization of these new plans and policies. They need tools to bake sustainability into their various types of purchasing—RFPs, quotes, low-value purchases, and the like. And in 2020, it’s clearer than ever that time is of the essence.
With this in mind, members of the Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement’s 2020 Working Group, decided to tackle this challenge. From April to November, Working Group members from Halifax Regional Municipality, City of Mississauga, City of Regina, the Government of Yukon, and Vancouver Coastal Health developed and piloted 3 new sustainable procurement tools and shared back their work and lessons learned to the wider CCSP community at the CCSP’s final Peer Exchange webinar of the year on December 3.
The Group’s goal was to build awareness around the benefits of tools, allow members to advance their program with minimal resources, and promote a united approach to sustainable procurement for CCSP members across Canada. Read on to hear more about what they accomplished!
What do sustainable procurement tools achieve?
Tools enable procurement staff and business units to take a standardized approach to sustainable purchasing in all types of purchases, including:
- Identifying sustainability risks and opportunities related to purchasing products and services;
- Establishing strong sustainability-related specifications;
- Collecting and evaluating product/service- and enterprise-level sustainability information; and more.
What tools did the Working Group develop?
1. Sustainability Risk and Opportunity Assessment
Helps identify potential sustainability impacts before determining clauses and questions to include in solicitation documents. It provides a list of common sustainability issue areas and corresponding actions to take depending on their likelihood and severity.
2. Ecolabel Guide
Lists the most common ecolabels, provides information on how to assess the different types of ecolabels, and outlines tips for how to include ecolabels in solicitation documents. Tip: Type 1 ecolabels in solicitation documents help avoid greenwashing by ensuring third-party verification.
3. Supplier Leadership Questionnaire
Collects information to assess vendors’ enterprise-level sustainability. It includes a list of open-ended and yes/no questions as well as a list of supporting documentation vendors can provide to verify their claims. Supplier Leadership Questionnaires (or SQLs) are most often included as an attachment to RFPs but can also be used as a supplier engagement tool outside of formal RFx processes. For example, they can collect baseline data from vendors and inform performance management discussions.
What were the lessons learned?
Throughout the pilot, the Working Group garnered input from key stakeholders in their organizations, including senior leaders, buyers, sustainability staff, and contract managers from various business units. Here are their most salient lessons learned if you’re interested in implementing tools in your organization:
Don’t reinvent the wheel. There are already dozens of tools created by your peers and organizations like the CCSP. Save time and money by reaching out to your network to see what exists instead of developing tools from scratch.
Build a team. Create an internal working group with sustainable procurement champions to help inform tool development and implementation.
Engage users. Make sure to meet with potential users of the tools—understand their priorities, challenges, and lingo. Success will depend on your ability to speak their language!
Start small and iterate. Begin conducting pilot tests early on and stagger introducing the tool to new groups. Start piloting the tools with your working group, followed by a few ‘sustainability friendly’ buyers. Once you’ve refined your approach, you’ll feel more confident rolling it out to your entire buying team and then to all contract managers.
Prioritize high impact purchase categories. Create a tiered approach to implementation. Begin by using the tools on Tier 1 High Impact Procurement Opportunities—purchase categories that are high spend, high volume and/or of strategic importance for sustainability. Once staff become familiar with the tools, expand to Tier 2 and Tier 3 categories.
Train staff. Once you’ve piloted and finalized the tools, build a training and communications plan. Make it clear to staff that tools are now part of your procurement procedures. Outline their purpose and how and when to use them and provide training in different formats (e.g. recorded video demos, downloadable guides, 1-on-1 meetings, small group Lunch and Learns, etc.)
If the concept of sustainable procurement is new to your organization, it will be critical to educate your stakeholders on the basics before implementing new tools. This includes:
- Educating staff on the business case and benefits of sustainable procurement;
- Orienting staff to your organization’s sustainable procurement policy and strategy; and
- Sharing how sustainable procurement supports other organizational policies and strategy (e.g. strategic plans, poverty reduction or climate action commitments, etc.).
Note: Sustainable procurement was new to many Working Group member organization and, as a result, we created educational resources like a list of sustainable procurement definitions and a short sustainable procurement training slide deck, which all CCSP members have access to as well.
The CCSP’s new sustainable procurement tools are now accessible to all 30 member organizations through the CCSP’s online Resource Library. Working Group members will be actively updating the tools based on user feedback and are interested in examining Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) tools and resources in 2021. In addition, CCSP staff are working with 2 UBC Sustainability Scholars to develop a Sustainable Procurement Guide for City Councillors and 10 Sustainable Product and Service Factsheets.
Want to get involved?
The CCSP is actively looking for more public organizations interested in implementing sustainable procurement in 2021. Find out more about us here and reach out to alyssa [at] reeveconsulting.com if you’re interested in joining our community.
None of this would be possible without CCSP’s Working Group volunteers (listed below) who convened throughout the year to advance thought-leadership and co-create these resources. Thank you all for your time and energy and congrats on this huge accomplishment!
- Andrea Westfall, Sustainable Procurement Coordinator at the City of Mississauga
- Edward Claringbold, Procurement Advisor at the Government of Yukon
- Jane Prior, Manager, Procurement at the Halifax Regional Municipality
- Sonja Janousek, Sustainability Manager at Vancouver Coastal Health
- Tammy Moyse, Procurement Manager at the City of Regina
Thank you also to Genevieve Russell, Projects Manager, Sustainability, at the City of Saskatoon who presented lessons learned from the City’s new Triple Bottom Line (TBL) risk-opportunity assessment tool! Read more about their award-winning TBL initiative here.