Behind the ecolabels, standards, tools, and technology are the procurement professionals and other staff who make the decisions to move sustainable procurement programs forward. Alicia Culver from the Responsible Purchasing Network noted that one best practice organizations can use is to institutionalize sustainable procurement, which ensures top-level support. Procurement professionals do not want to make decisions for end users unless the policy is clear to all stakeholders, Ms. Culver noted. Organizations need to determine a process for collaboration among different parts of the organization, adopt a policy with clear goals and reporting requirements, and establish communication and outreach strategies. Collecting baseline data at the beginning of a program is important for demonstrating the success of a program, showing improvement over time, and identifying cost impacts and savings, all of which could help demonstrate the case for a responsible purchasing program.
Also, Ms. Culver commented, there seems to be a movement toward decentralization of purchasing, which can pose challenges to sustainable procurement. When the decision-making process is centralized around green and sustainable products and services, an organization can often negotiate better prices. It is harder to aggregate demand when each agency or department is ordering on its own. Also, when purchasing is centralized, it is easier to control and monitor purchases, which simplifies the education and training process.
Participants discussed needs for training in the workforce, and one
Best Practices for Instilling Sustainable Procurement
in an Organization and Workforce:
Determine a process for collaboration within an organization
Adopt a policy with clear goals and reporting requirements
Establish communication and outreach strategies
Track information and establish a baseline at the beginning of a program
Centralize procurement activities in the organization
Alicia Culver, Sustainable Purchasing Network, December 7, 2011.
participant noted that the roles and responsibilities for different workers need to be clearly identified so that the proper level of training can be targeted to that group for best results. Another aspect of this, said another participant, is that a culture change is needed in addition to training. One solution is to have a pilot-scale project in order to foster buy-in from some, and then expand the effort to all, a participant suggested. Once a small example is out there, another participant added, it could lead to larger efforts and eventually to buy-in from leadership.
Training should be presented and viewed as education, and it should be a two-way activity, commented one participant. Receiving feedback, both data-driven and qualitative, helps point out opportunities for improvement and reveals whether the training had the right focus. One participant urged that culture change, especially empowering procurement professionals to make more informed choices and provide guidance, should be incorporated into the strategic vision of organizations; instilling sustainability principles will not be successful unless it is connected to the vision of the organization. Also important are promoting proper practices and giving recognition to the people who are doing things the right way, some participants noted.
Jonathan Rifkin from the District of Columbia’s Office of Contracting and Procurement presented the case for an interagency, jurisdiction-wide team capable of addressing issues around sustainable procurement. The team should include a procurement professional who can move the process forward and who understands how to write contract language that can be readily applied. An environmental expert will also be needed, such as a representative from the jurisdiction’s environmental unit. Such expertise would help inform the purchaser, who may not be able to make environmental value judgments for that particular jurisdiction. Mr. Rifkin also said that people from budget and finance would be needed on the team to overcome the notion that sustainable products are more expen-
sive. Also important are people who could help recognize when a product with higher initial costs would result in savings over time. Such savings, he noted, could possibly fund this type of program in a way that it becomes a self-funding mechanism. In Mr. Rifkin’s view, another important member of team would be someone from the office of the mayor (or city administrator or governor), to make clear to everyone that leadership supports the new approach.
Finally, having someone from the supplier community can be beneficial. This allows local businesses to be apprised of sustainable initiatives and any new requirements when it is time for a bid for particular types of products, Mr. Rifkin added; such information helps them prepare and be ready with any needed specifications. Pulling together this team ultimately gains an element of buy-in from this very politically powerful group of people, and turns into allies a group of individuals who before may have resisted sustainability initiatives. Such an effort would have many benefits, such as streamlining the sustainable purchasing process by giving procurement professionals clear and precise guidance about the process and making them a partner in it. This type of program could also make tracking purchases easier, Mr. Rifkin said; effectively tracking purchases is difficult, and without tracking it is hard to measure progress. Such programs would also allow jurisdictions to be creative, he said; states and local communities are the laboratories of the country, and giving them the tools and infrastructure to make decisions could allow for them to come up with distinctive solutions that will help everybody. Mr. Rifkin concluded that at the end of the day, bringing this group to the table and asking them to speak to these issues builds buy-in, which is probably the most difficult thing to achieve because of different priorities, needs, and other pressures.