Bridging the Gap Between Local Action and Global Impact

Engineers Without Borders / Bridging the Gap

Mohandas Ghandi once said: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” This was the inspiration behind this year’s Engineers Without Borders’ (EWB) Bridging the Gap Conference held at UBC on March 27th.

Compelling keynote presentations delivered by Shauna Sylvester and Dr. Hans Rosling and several breakout sessions cut across four main themes: EWB’s Values and Capacity Building, Advocacy, Serving Global Society, and Connecting to the Developing World. According to Rogayeh Tabrizi, event organizer extraordinaire, “we came together to create a space for dialogue, for understanding, for sharing the passion, for helping each other see the world around us better.”

The Fair Trade breakout session encouraged critical discussion by walking participants through what it means to “trade fairly.” Workshop facilitators Stacey Toews, of Level Ground Trading, and Randy Hooper, of Discovery Organics, talked candidly about how true fair trade has to go beyond just putting a Fair Trade Certified logo on a package. From their perspective, building direct relationships with producers that are based in transparency, dialogue and respect is really what fair trade is about.

This contention resonates across the field of ethical and sustainable purchasing. Countless examples of successful ethical and sustainable purchasing (ESP) programs demonstrate that focusing on supplier or producer relationships is imperative. In interviewing leaders and pioneers in this field, Reeve has heard procurement professionals say time and time again that without building strong relationships with suppliers their ESP initiatives would have been less successful.

When you buy products or services do you just look for a third-party ecolabel to ease your conscious or do you go beyond to learn more about the supplier or producer who is behind the product? You may not have time to build longterm relationships with all your suppliers, but even just asking a few simple questions about their business practices or their relationships with their contractors will facilitate understanding and greater success in achieving your sustainability goals. To paraphrase Toews and Hooper, go beyond product labelling and dig deeper…get to know the people behind your products and enter into dialogue with them.

Purchasers Going Green

The Purchasing Management Association of Canada (PMAC) hosted two half-day Sustainable Procurement Showcases sponsored by Grand and Toy in November. Reeve Consulting was asked to participate in a panel discussion as the local expert on crafting Ethical and Sustainable Procurement (ESP) Policies and Procedures. Fellow panelists included Vicki Wakefield from UBC, Kevin Koertje from Boise Paper and Scott McDougall from TerraChoice.

In the form of a fireside chat panelists covered topics ranging from leveraging your buying power or creating buying groups to influence suppliers into offering sustainable options; the importance of looking at full life-cycle when calculating the true cost of purchasing green products; and looking beyond the recycled paper label and asking questions about source. Kevin McCarty, from Reeve Consulting, talked about the importance of considering ethical issues as well as sustainability and how Reeve works with clients to develop procurement policies and practices that not only allow them to purchase ethical and sustainable products, but reduce risk and strengthen their brand.

To view Reeve’s 10-Steps to Activating ESP Click Here or go to the PMAC website at www.pmac.ca and click on the Sustainable Procurement Showcase under Events.

Ethical & sustainable purchasing around the dinner table

What happens when you bring some of the leading policy makers and practitioners in ethical and sustainable purchasing together over dinner? Lively and informative discussion on maintaining VANOC’s Ethical and Sustainable Purchasing (ESP) momentum, the influence of larger contracts vs. smaller ones, concerns of audit fatigue, as well as the importance of supplier engagement and looking inward at your own practices were all subjects discussed in a recent congregation of Vancouver-based thought leaders.

On November 30th Reeve Consulting hosted an Ethical and Sustainable Purchasing dinner with the goal of facilitating conversation between some of Vancouver’s movers and shakers and exploring the opportunities and challenges facing the ESP movement.

The wide range of guests included:
• Kai Alderson, Fasken Martineau
• Rory Carr, RC Products
• Harvey Chan, Mountain Equipment Co-op
• Daryl Doyle, SAP
• Councilor Geoff Meggs, City of Vancouver
• Monica Netupsky, VANOC licensing
• Melorin Pouladian, Lululemon
• Denise Taschereau , Fairware
• Tim Reeve, Reeve Consulting
• Kevin McCarty, Reeve Consulting
• Amanda Mungal, Reeve Consulting

Over dinner, the desire to ensure the momentum created by VANOC is maintained post-Vancouver 2010 was discussed. Small licensees, in particular, have been able to leverage the VANOC license to encourage factory compliance and there is concern that the once the Olympics is over the influence small companies have on their supply chains will dwindle.

Common challenges raised by purchasers were both lack of buying power relative to overall factory production and audit fatigue on behalf of factory owners. Rory stated that he heard reports of one factory that had to conduct nearly one audit a week to keep up with the demands of factory compliance. Harvey suggested one possibility for addressing audit fatigue is to place more emphasis on direct engagement with suppliers and less emphasis on using a particular audit. If a factory has passed a standard audit then accepting those results while directly engaging the factory owner may bring about a more fruitful outcome. These comments lead into deep conversation on ways to share factory audit information without losing competitive edge and better ways to directly engage suppliers.

Monica and Denise both suggested that educating consumers needs to be a high priority in furthering the ESP momentum fueled by VANOC. Rory suggested that combining this with some kind of positive recognition for companies that practice ESP rather than negative recognition might help consumers make more informed choices. Often consumers are made aware of the companies they shouldn’t buy from rather than the good ones they should buy from.

Melorin and Daryl recognized the significant opportunity for large companies to move beyond “greening” their retail product by “greening” their operations. Denise agreed, stating that in her work she often finds that “green” companies have put so many resources into their retail product that they have none left for internal operations and often turn to her when they realize their promotional items are in direct contrast to their own retail product.

Also, there was a good discussion of how purchasing organizations can contribute to human rights violations by putting unreasonable demands on their suppliers. For example, when a large order is needed immediately, then it may be that employees are required to work longer days that are in violation with international labour conventions. It was agreed that it is important for purchasing organizations to recognize their influence on factory labour conditions in order to help their suppliers comply with international labour standards.

The dinner wound down with everyone feeling energized and more connected. The Reeve Team really enjoyed hearing what our industry colleagues had to say and looks forward to another opportunity to continue these discussions.