New UN Report Showcases Sustainable Public Procurement Practices Around the Globe

Version 2The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently released the 2017 Global Review of Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP), which provides and in-depth look at how governments and public institutions around the world are improving the sustainability of their supply chains and procurement practices.

Building on the first Global Review, published in 2013, this report draws on research conducted in 2015 and 2016 to present a comprehensive picture of global progress in advancing SPP and to elucidate the opportunities, needs, challenges, and innovations in SPP in the last five years.

The 2017 Global Review is unique in its breadth of coverage on SPP, incorporating thoughts, opinions, and data from more than 200 stakeholders across 41 countries. The report found that, although there continue to be significant challenges, awareness and implementation of SPP principles continues to grow around the world. Countries are working toward implementing SPP mainly through capacity-building activities for staff and stakeholders, and through integrating SPP principles and practices into existing procurement and management-related processes, procedures, and tools.

The report also discusses persistent challenges related to SPP implementation, including the perception that sustainable products are more expensive and a lack of expertise on sustainable purchasing. Countries are actively working to overcome these challenges, particularly through awareness-raising and knowledge-sharing activities.

Reeve is proud to have been a part of this project, which will be a useful source of information and experience on SPP, and can contribute to greater implementation and ultimately greater impacts through sustainable procurement activities.

The 2017 Global Review was published as part of UNEP’s 10YFP Programme on Sustainable Public Procurement, a “global multi- stakeholder platform that supports the implementation of SPP around the world. The Programme builds synergies between diverse partners to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target on SPP, i.e. to promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities. The United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) leads the 10YFP SPP Programme with ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and the Korea Environmental Industry & Technology Institute (KEITI) as co-leads.”

GoodGuide.com for Sustainable Purchasing Programs

Good Guide

Our clients regularly ask us where they can find a list of green products or sustainable suppliers. While there is no silver-bullet-one-stop shopping list for ethical and sustainable options, there are an increasing number of online tools to help buyers evaluate the environmental and social attributes of products.

While these tools are user-friendly and convenient (often accessible from mobile devices) they’re only useful if they draw from credible data.

Recently at Reeve Consulting we’ve been investigating GoodGuide.com, an online database of information on the health, environmental and social impacts of over 100,000 consumer products.

While the GoodGuide is mainly targeted to consumer audiences, we see some value in this tool for corporate purchasers, and even more so for staff at large in organizations with a sustainable purchasing policy.

Where we see this tool could be particularly useful is for staff making smaller, un-tendered purchases. For example, an administrative employee buying office or cleaning supplies may find it useful to compare attributes of one product to another to determine which is greener or healthier.

What is the GoodGuide?
GoodGuide is an online platform that allows user’s to search specific products to find a rating based on health, environment and society measures attributed to the product or manufacturer. An overall rating for each product is provided, and user’s can drill down for specifics on health and sustainability features by clicking on a rating for more details.

Screen shot of Dawn ultra-concentrated dish soap on GoodGuide.com

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10. A score of 10 means the product rates very well relative to other products in a category or other companies in an industrial sector.

Similar to the EnerGuide label on appliances, GoodGuide doesn’t approve or certify products as meeting specific sustainability standards, it only provides information that can be used to compare one product to another.

Highlights of the GoodGuide
A major strength of the GoodGuide is that it’s easy to use. Primarily, directed at the consumer market, with a mission to help consumers make purchasing decisions that reflect their preferences and values, the tool has been set-up with a user-friendly interface and colour-coded rating system. There’s also a GoodGuide’s smart phone app, which allows one to access the full product database from the shopping aisle by simply scanning product barcodes.

Mobile barcode look-up; Flickr / Lauren C.

Another benefit purchasers will find with GoodGuide is that it covers many more products than those qualifying for ecolabels. At the same time, if a searched product does feature an ecolabel, this information is shared in GoodGuide’s product description.

Regarding the data behind the ratings, GoodGuide conducts regular stakeholder consultation and relies on third-party experts to develop and continuously improve their rating and metrics system. Their executive team and advisors are leading academics in product lifecycle analysis and other related fields, which brings some added credibility to the tool. Further, GoodGuide clearly outlines their data quality control procedures and acknowledge where there are gaps in data and value judgments.

B CorporationAs an organization, GoodGuide is certified as a “for Benefit” Corporation by BCorporation, a recognized body which provides third-party verification of GoodGuide’s sustainability and transparency performance. It requires that GoodGuide meet a comprehensive set of transparent social and environmental performance standards. As a result, GoodGuide has made their metrics and ratings system publicly available, which provides legitimacy to their rating system for products.

Areas for consideration
Recognizing that the GoodGuide is a relatively new tool, we’re impressed by the large number of products that have been rated to date and the level of information we’re able to access. As the GoodGuide continues to develop, there are a couple areas where we feel the tool could be strengthened.

From early use with the tool we found that the transparency of raw data behind the ratings could be improved. While it appears you can take an extra step to contact GoodGuide and request detailed data for a given product, we’d prefer that the data be easily accessible, in real-time, while using the tool online.

Another area where we feel there’s some room for improvement is in GoodGuide’s social ratings. Currently the tool appears to take corporate social responsibility (CSR) performance for companies and apply it at the product-level. For example, a company’s support of local community groups could be recorded as a social impact of a product produced by that company, even if the two aren’t directly related.

We believe this approach could be improved, and that presenting the social impact of a product requires a look at the social impacts of the given product’s supply chain. We encourage GoodGuide to develop social supply chain criteria (similar to the Fair Trade model) rather than apply general company CSR performance to individual products.

No replacement for ecolabels, but a useful tool
Overall, companies and organizations with a sustainable purchasing program will find GoodGuide useful for initial product research and informing less formal purchasing decisions.

While use of the GoodGuide can’t replace consideration of ecolabel certifications for mandatory product specifications, it may facilitate initial product research and help engage more staff by making daily sustainable purchasing decisions easier.

Let us know in the comments section below if you’ve had a chance to use the GoodGuide. If so, what has your experience been? Where did you find it useful? What do you feel could be improved?

Canada votes: party platforms pass the buck on responsible purchasing

Flickr / alexindigo

While the economy and healthcare are receiving the most airtime during this Canadian federal election, polls show that the environment remains a top election issue. However, meaningful discussion of environmental concerns has been seriously lacking within the overall debate.

After reviewing the environmental and sustainability components of the main parties’ election platforms (Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Green Party) we were sadly disappointed to see little mention of sustainable purchasing as a key component of their strategy (we did find a short section at the end of the Green Party’s Vision Green – section 6.4 to be exact)

Not surprisingly, all the parties have environmental promises in the area of action against climate change and supporting cleaner forms of energy. While support for a green economy varies across the parties, all show favour for employment in the environmental sector, whether it’s through investment in renewable energy, clean technologies, energy efficiency or related research and development.

Missed opportunity: ethical and sustainable purchasing investment

The Canadian Government spends over $20 billion per year on goods and services on behalf of Canadians – a huge opportunity to contribute directly to a green economy.

Flickr / waferboard

Beyond supporting environmental protection, purchasing decisions that consider labour conditions and support a local economy would round out a purchasing program to its fullest triple-bottom line potential. Among the advantages of an effective ethical and sustainable purchasing program are enhancing the image of the national government as a sustainability leader, mitigating legal and brand risks, reducing costs by selecting products with less waste, energy consumption and product related health concerns.

While the government of Canada currently has a green purchasing policy, Reeve Consulting knows from our experience working with the public sector across Canada that policy alone does not necessarily equate to significant impact and benefits. What’s needed is a clear plan for implementation, and perhaps most importantly, training and staff capacity to ensure success. Basically, a level of investment that would fit well in the environment section of an election platform.

Large investment for even larger returns

While we fully acknowledge it takes resources to achieve an effective ethical and sustainable purchasing program, the potential results are huge.

Few other programs can directly contribute to multiple sustainability agendas around climate leadership, energy efficiency, waste reduction, local economic development, strategic sourcing and government employee engagement.

Moving in the right direction

We realize that transitioning $20 billion in spending to responsible and sustainable procurement program takes time. However we can’t help but notice the lucrative opportunities to support green products and technologies that continue to pass the government by, including low hanging fruit in the form of the G20 dignitary gifts, and more complex, but full of potential, stimulus spending in Canada’s Economic Action Plan.

Flickr / Muffet

Adoption of the Government of Canada’s green purchasing policy is a good first step and suggests Ottawa is on the right track, but we’d like to see far more – from both the current Conservative Government (oops! Harper Government) as well as those that would like to assume a leadership position within parliament.

Be sure to get out and vote on May 2 and next time you run into your MP raise the issue of responsible purchasing and sustainable supply chains