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Five sustainable procurement strategies for the public sector

by Erin Unger
in Procurement

With an optimistic view that COVID-19 cases will fall, restrictions will lift, and employees will return to work, the public sector must start planning to spend in the best interests of their communities. Despite a difficult year, the adage “money talks” remains true. Whether through new employment opportunities, support for small or local businesses, or more environmentally friendly products, the public sector can create lasting positive impact through sustainable procurement.

Sustainable procurement embeds relevant sustainability considerations into processes for selecting goods and services, alongside traditional considerations like price, quality, service, and technical specifications. Sustainable procurement also includes environmental, ethical, social, and Indigenous procurement.

The Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (CCSP), a leadership group of 38 municipalities, crown corporations, and post-secondary institutions, just released its 11th Annual Report on the State of Sustainable Public Procurement in Canada this year. It highlights the success of sustainable procurement in the public sector despite a year of uncertainty.

The Mayor by George B. Cuff

Here are five procurement strategies public organizations are using right now to make a positive impact.

1. Mainstream Buying for Good with Social Procurement

Social inequity became even more apparent as COVID drastically affected employment rates. The impact of job loss and a global economic crisis increased inequalities for those with barriers to employment. In response to this crisis, cities responded with stronger social procurement policies and implemented programs to directly benefit their at-risk communities.

The City of Nanaimo developed the Urban Clean-Up program to alleviate the concerns of downtown residents and businesses about the impacts that social issues were having on the urban areas of the city, such as rubbish left behind from the homeless population. The city created a social enterprise business model solution to hire individuals with barriers to employment to participate in the program through a local non-profit, the John Howard Society (JHS).

The program currently employs two part-time JHS staff and contracts six program participants. So far, the program has been widely successful for both the downtown community and the participants. Between 2017 and 2020, a total of 3,064 bags of garbage and 3,843 discarded syringes were collected from the downtown area. Participants are receiving a fair wage, work experience, and have reported an increased sense of self-worth and belonging.

2. Turn Policies into Impacts

Policy cannot further sustainable procurement goals without tools to implement it. Tools bake sustainability into regular purchases and processes in an organization. Risk-opportunity assessments, guides, sample clauses, etc. can ensure that staff are fully informed of opportunities in your supply chain and can act on them.

City council at the City of Saskatoon recognized this opportunity for program development in 2018. The City of Saskatoon had many sustainability plans and policies, but had no way to integrate sustainability into everyday activities. In response, the sustainability department formed a team to draft a Triple Bottom Line (TBL) Framework, which considers the four pillars of sustainable procurement, 42 indicators, and 115 corresponding success metrics. This led the team to pilot a TBL decision-making tool to build greater buy-in from staff.

The Mayor by George B. Cuff

The tool has been used over 40 times between May 2019 and January 2021. The tool was used to approve a new library with exciting sustainability features such as Indigenous art, improved accessibility, LEED environmental compliance, and reduced operating and maintenance costs.

3. Use Procurement to Further Reconciliation

The Canadian pipeline and attacks on Mi’kmaq fisheries in October 2020 sparked discussions of how public procurement could be used to further Reconciliation. The subsequent advancement of the Government of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 92, Business and Reconciliation meant the adoption of new policies and practices that promote contracting and subcontracting to Indigenous businesses.

The Government of Yukon saw an opportunity for Indigenous jobs, capacity building, and culture training through their $79 million investment, the Dempster Fibre Project, to offer better internet and cell services to northern communities. Direct engagement with communities impacted by the project allowed for an open discourse and resulted in increased employment, training, and business opportunities for Yukon people and Indigenous groups.

This project has set new standards for acknowledging and encouraging direct participation of Indigenous citizens impacted by infrastructure projects in their communities.

4. Walk the Talk and Prioritize Supplier Diversity

The Black Lives Matter movement spurred the public sector to reassess systemic barriers faced by people of colour and how leveraging sustainable procurement could drive positive change. The Government of Canada’s Speech from the Throne in September promised to redouble economic empowerment efforts by increasing diversity in public procurement, including continuing to host their Diversifying the Federal Supply Chain Summit and delivering on recommendations from the Procurement Ombudsman’s study on Supplier Diversity and Workforce Development.

Some municipalities adjusted policies to identify supplier diversity as a key priority and have been working more closely with diverse supplier certification councils to align their values. The City of Brampton joined five non-profit diverse supplier certification organizations and the Supplier Diversity Alliance of Canada in 2020. This spring, the city worked on its Certified Diverse Supplier List for Invitational Procurements between $25,000 to $100,000 that will ensure that at least one supplier of three invited to bid is a diverse supplier.

Diverse suppliers are identified as being a 51 percent owned small or medium business managed by an equity-seeking community or social purpose enterprise. This program will increase opportunities for equity-seeking groups, including veterans, women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ2S+, among others.

5. Invest in IT with Total Cost of Ownership

By assessing the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a product, organizations can ascertain the long-term associated costs. Calculating TCO is a necessary step when estimating the return on investment (ROI) and can help to eliminate unforeseen maintenance and end-of-life costs. With the explosion in IT purchasing in the past two years, many municipalities were left scrambling to implement sustainable specifications into their bids. This rapid demand for sustainable IT has encouraged suppliers to consider TCO in their products and will have a lasting impact on the IT market.

When the City of Winnipeg recognized that their multi-function printing devices (MFDs) were at their end-of-life, the IT department saw an opportunity to consider TCO in the procurement of a new fleet of printers. A public RFP was drawn up over 11 months that included mandatory sustainability specifications such as Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) Certification, paper reduction capabilities, secure end-of-life recycling, and more. Non-mandatory sustainability specifications were included and valued at 15 percent of the proposal.

Sustainable Opportunities in Your Supply Chain

Municipalities have seen incredible impact by aligning their organizational values and procurement strategies. Whether it be supporting Reconciliation, social enterprises, or working toward a net-zero circular economy, sustainable procurement can further your organization goals and create a positive ripple effect through your community.

Check out the CCSP 11th Annual Report on the State of Sustainable Public Procurement in Canada for more procurement strategies and keep an eye out for opportunities in your supply chain. You’ll be rewarded with effective and inspiring results.  MW

Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Chris Chen and Jennifer Court’s article: Time to act.


Erin Unger is the Program Manager for the CCSP.

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