Guest Article by: Barb Everdene
A network of nineteen leading public sector organizations has just released a report on how they used their spending power in 2017 to influence more responsible and sustainable practices in the marketplace.
“Sustainability is a shopping priority,” says Victoria Wakefield, UBC’s Manager of Purchasing Services and member of the Municipal Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (MCSP).
“The days of lowest cost are over, and the conversation now is about best value—for our health, environment, and communities.” Established in 2010, the MCSP supports Canadian public-sector institutions to work together to set and achieve sustainable purchasing goals.
According to the report, there are some significant trends to watch. Social purchasing is a hot topic for the public sector: organizations are looking at how their service contracts can provide community benefits and work opportunities for groups with barriers to employment.
Network members are transforming their procurement systems to deliver on corporate sustainability goals, investing in more human resources and training programs to bring sustainability requirements into their contracts. They are also developing innovative partnerships with academic institutions and social enterprises to design new approaches and engage supplier communities.
“It’s been an exciting year for our members, who’ve made leaps forward to embed social, environmental, and ethical thinking into their purchasing decisions,” says Tim Reeve, President of Reeve Consulting, which serves as the Secretariat for the network,
“Most of an organization’s social and environmental impacts lie in their supply chain. Focusing on procurement is one of the most powerful ways to deliver on sustainability. It’s also good business—our members have seen immense strategic value from sustainable purchasing.”
The City of Vancouver, one of the founding members of MCSP, is a case in point. Faced with an affordability crisis and ranking as Canada’s most expensive city, in September 2016 Vancouver City Council committed to becoming a certified Living Wage Employer. After a rapid 8-month implementation, City service contracts now require in-scope contracted employees and their subcontractors to be paid at or above the current living wage.
Vancouver’s leadership has resulted in wage increases in vulnerable sectors like security, janitorial and graffiti removal and has given more profile to the Living Wage movement as an important strategy to address poverty in the city.
The University of British Columbia used social procurement to transform its research footprint this year with the Green Labs Program. Research activities are resource intensive: the 400 labs across both campuses account for 49% of campus energy use, 24% of campus water use, and they generate 96% of its hazardous waste.
With financial support from suppliers such as Fisher Scientific and VWR International, UBC set up cross-functional teams, mobilized a network of Sustainability Coordinators, and created resources (including an update to the Sustainable Purchasing Guide originally created by Wakefield) to help labs green their operations.
There is still much work to do but the Green Labs Program has put resources in place to get us where we want to go,” says Wakefield. “We built those resources into our supplier agreements to empower our research community to measure, manage and develop more sustainable solutions.”
Reeve honors the work accomplished. “There are many ways to do sustainable procurement,” he says. “Our members are looking for opportunities to make a difference in their unique business lines and communities.
” The report highlights case examples of other innovative sustainable procurement initiatives—how Simon Fraser University considered job security in their Dining and Janitorial Services contracts; how the City of Victoria and the City of Surrey approached conversion of their streetlights to more energy efficient LED technology; and how the University of Alberta is promoting the purchase of responsible promotional items with their new Sustainable Swag Guide.
The report also profiles the City of Calgary for launching a Supplier Leadership Questionnaire and the City of Winnipeg for achieving Fair Trade Town certification.
Overall, the Canadian public sector made big strides this year towards making sustainable spending business as usual. All of these activities, as well as ongoing support from the MCSP network, are setting public organizations up to lead by example and help drive the market shift to sustainability.
The Municipal Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (MCSP) is a member-based network of Canadian public-sector institutions working together to deliver better services and achieve better value through sustainable purchasing. Our member organizations meet virtually several times per year to share information, collaborate on tool development, and exchange lessons learned related to mitigating risks and improving social and environmental outcomes by considering sustainability risks in the procurement process.
Barb Everdene is an Associate at Reeve Consulting and Coordinator of the MCSP.
 According to the Mercer’s Cost of Living Rankings – see https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/cost-of-living-rankings#rankings
 For more details on which contractors are in scope, see http://vancouver.ca/doing-business/living-wage.aspx
 The living wage is calculated annually by the Living Wage for Families Campaign as the hourly rate required for two working adults to meet the basic needs of a family of four in a specific region.