Risk and resilience

From the December 2020 print edition

While COVID-19 has plunged us into a new reality, with new stresses and risks within supply chains, it has also highlighted how sustainable procurement offers solutions that can save money, deliver environmental benefits and encourage spending public dollars for the public good. It can be hard to think about opportunity in the midst of so much uncertainty. But as more organizations formalize their green and social purchasing efforts, its clear, investments in sustainable procurement are investments in resilience.

The Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (CCSP), formerly the Municipal Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement, is a network of 30 leading Canadian public sector organizations that share best practices and co-develop tools to advance sustainable public procurement in Canada. Recent CCSP member activity shows that large institutional buyers are levelling up their commitments to green, social, ethical and Indigenous purchasing.

For example, the Halifax Regional Municipality approved new social procurement policies in September, the City of Whitehorse updated their procurement policy to include sustainability, the City of Victoria updated its bylaws to include new social procurement and living wage requirements, and the BC Lottery Corporation created sustainable procurement implementation plans to guide the development of a high impact program over the next three years.

Nine months into adapting to the pandemic, organizations are now shifting focus to the long game. Their examples show how looking at the strategic risks and opportunities within high impact procurement can cut carbon emissions, reduce waste and material use, stimulate small- and medium-size businesses and build more inclusive communities. Buying Back Better doesn’t come without some effort, but it delivers meaningful results. Below are some examples of win-win-win for buyers, suppliers, and communities.

Cut costs and carbon
Consider turning the focus on cost control towards energy conservation. The pandemic underscores the cost of disruption and the urgency of becoming more resilient in the face of climate change. Yet while challenges to revenue streams may require budget cuts, you can reduce costs and achieve low-carbon commitments at the same time.

Mississauga issued an RFP to electrify their fleet and offered the contract to ZAMBONI, who will deliver the first four units in spring 2020. By 2022, Mississauga will break even and start realizing savings. By year 10, the City expects to save $628,190. Over the 20-year lifecycle of these units, it expects to save $1,711,160. With this procurement, the City will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 832 tonnes (eCO2) as per Natural Resource Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency statistics – the equivalent of taking 255 cars off the road.

Re-use assets and reduce waste
Organizations may also need to defer new procurements and repurpose existing assets and resources. In 2018, Thompson Rivers Univer­sity (TRU) procurement manager Eric Vandermeulen tackled furniture waste by developing a Kijiji or Craigslist-style online marketplace for staff to claim furniture sent
to the warehouse for disposal.

“For years, we had a bunch of furniture stored in our warehouse without any way of letting people on campus know it was there. We had been selling or disposing of items off campus and simply buying new when client departments requested furniture,” he recalls. “I knew that the number one sustainability rule is to see if you can reuse items within your organization, and I thought TRU-ReUse was a way we could do that.”

The online shop has been a hit. As of last winter, there were 400 unique visitors on average per month to the site. The program has delivered 390 individual items, estimated at $75,000 in value, across all three campuses since 2018.

Use purchasing card spend
Social distancing requirements and supply chain disruptions have put stress on small and local businesses. Many remain open while facing plummeting sales. Your purchasing card spend can make your dollars count for small businesses. In 2019, a Working Group of CCSP members created a short training for purchasing card and credit card holders that introduces the goals of social procurement, how and when to consider social value when making a purchase, and highlights four recent success stories.

Domestic & community suppliers
In many regions, small businesses and social enterprises proved agile in shifting their production lines and providing a quality product. The Cities of Regina and Victoria worked with local distilleries
on a waste-to-resource approach to producing hand sanitizer.

Social enterprises do double duty in the community by providing employment opportunities and skills training for those with barriers who are more vulnerable in times of crisis. In BC, Simon Fraser University (SFU) used its purchasing power to pair social and Indigenous caterers with a prime contractor to deliver food services to its Vancouver Campus.

Advertise to diverse suppliers
Economic crises have a compounding impact on businesses that already face barriers, including suppliers that identify as diverse. There is evidence for the value of entrepreneurship in reducing poverty and fostering resilient community networks. The City of Toronto has paved the way for a dynamic supplier diversity program that is making a major difference to the City’s economically disadvantaged communities. The key lesson is to reach out to non-profit supplier certification organizations, which can advertise opportunities to their members. They need to know that public organizations are still buying, and that they are encouraged to bid. Key supplier organizations include the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, CAMSC, Women Business Enterprise Canada, Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and the Inclusive Workplace Supply Council of Canada.

Check out the CCSP Annual Report on the State of Sustainable Procurement in Canada for a roadmap to using your buying power to respond, recover and become more resilient.

Tim Reeve is president at Reeve Consulting.