Sustainable Purchasing: Not an Oxymoron–Part Two of Previous Column
In a previous column (click here for it) I gave you five reasons why having a sustainable procurement policy is an essential element of implementing smart, sustainable business practices. To recap, they are: to be proactive in complying with the coming APEX/ASTM Environmentally Sustainable Event Standards; preserving or enhancing your reputation; cost savings; stakeholder pressure; and risk avoidance.
So, now that you understand the importance of having a sustainable procurement policy, where do you start? This article is designed to provide you with a methodology to develop a sustainable procurement policy for your own organization. Contrary to what you might think, sustainable procurement policies don’t have to be ominous or overwhelming. Instead, think of the policies as filters to identify the who, what, where, when, why and how of purchasing. Here are five steps (or filters) to consider when creating a purchasing policy for your organization:
Step 1: Define the need.
Begin with examining why you need the product in the first place. Ask yourself the following questions before making purchases:
• Is it truly necessary? Is this a must have for our event? Examine your event needs by also reviewing the demographics of your stakeholders. For example, your event is a conference for technology developers and they are used to receiving a conference bag. Evaluate whether it’s critical to have one. If yes, why? Is it because you’ve always had one and you’re concerned with attendee satisfaction if you discontinue offering them? If so, you may want to consider an alternative approach: offer the attendees a discount if they opt not to have a conference bag. Or make a contest out of who can come to the conference with the oldest previous year’s bag. If you still feel you must provide a bag, make sure it’s one that can be used after the conference. Bags with logos tend not to be used after the conference. Or if you must have bags, arrange for any leftovers to be donated and provide a collection area.
• Will it add to the event in some meaningful way? In the example above one could argue the product provides a purpose therefore adding to the attendee experience. If the product was a yo-yo, would providing it add to the event in some meaningful way? It probably wouldn’t unless it tied into the theme or the purpose of the event like an event for child entertainers.
• Does it serve a multipurpose and function? A simple example of this would be a reusable beverage container for hot or cold beverages. Not only can it be used during the event, it’s also something that can be used by attendees long after the event.
• Does it have a deeper story to tell? Canada Tourism Commission’s Canada Media Marketplace has a wonderful example of telling a deeper story. Realizing name badges were an essential product for an event, yet traditionally a wasteful one, they teamed up with their sponsor partner Tourism Ontario. The challenge was to find a solution that would be environmentally responsible and reflect the arts and culture of Canada. The solution: They hired Toronto-based artist James Fowler to design the badges. The lanyards were made from discarded silk ties and reclaimed plastic veggie containers. Badges were printed on 30 percent post-consumer recycled content stock, including a mini-program on the back. Collecting them to reuse them posed a bit of challenge though because everyone wanted to keep them!
• Do you have flexibility as to the type of product you select? Are you using a particular product because that is just how it has always been done? Consider alternative solutions to the typical products you use for your events. Audrey Davies from Home Depot gives a great example of how they replaced their directional signage by using humans adorned with their Home Depot aprons to direct attendees. Not only did it make it more engaging for the attendees, but she saved money not having to produce the signs and the aprons were collected and reused.
Step 2: Research the product.
You’ll want to research the life cycle of a product which means examining the stages of the product’s “life”: materials and production, product use, disposal and the community impacts of that product.
• Materials & Production: Start by asking how the product is made and where the materials come from. Ask your supplier what types of materials are used to make the product. For example, if the product is made of plastic, is it made with recycled material? If it’s not recycled plastic, where is the material sourced from? If it’s made from coral, what does it take to extract the material? Is it renewable? In the case of a wood or wood type product, is the material renewable, like bamboo?
• Use: What is the product for? How will the product be used? Who will use it? How long is it intended to be used? Will it be used beyond the event itself?
• Disposal: How likely is it that the product is going to be reused either at this event, another event, or in some other way by the recipient? What options are there to dispose of the product? If the product is compostable, how likely is it will actually be composted? Does it require commercial composting? If the product is recyclable, how likely is it that it will be recycled?
• People/Community: How does the extraction of the materials or the production of the product affect the people and/or the community? For example, you would want to avoid using a wood product that is harvested from rain forest wood. Where is it produced? Is it local or shipped from long distances? What are the labor practices of the people producing and transporting the product? Be sure you have researched the labor practices of any factories where the products are being produced. For example, are the workers paid a fair wage, work a reasonable amount of hours/days, provided a safe work place? Does the product offer local economic benefits to the community? For example, if the product is fish, does the community where the fishing takes place gain economic benefits, or are the fish being harvested by large commercial fishing fleets to the detriment of the local fishing community or environment?
Step 3: Assess your suppliers.
If you regularly purchase products for your event, do your suppliers offer sustainable choices? How do they operate as an organization? Are they publicly committed to sustainable procurement and production? Do they have any documentation or third party verifications or certifications? Ask your suppliers if their products meet the following criteria: Do they have a sustainability policy? Be sure to ask for a copy of the policy. Do they follow best practices? For example, do they: recycle materials, have energy efficient processes, use water conserving methods, reduce their waste output? Do they train their staff on sustainability? Be sure their staff are given training around their best practices and are aware of their sustainability policy. Do they offer any incentive program for staff to encourage or reward them for implementing sustainable practices?
Here are additional questions to consider: Do they measure their environmental impact? Can they supply you with data that either illustrates the reduction of environmental impacts and/or enhances the community’s economic situation of the product, material or production process? Do they have any third party verification/certification? For example, is the product Fair Trade certified or certified organic or Energy Star rated or, in the case of wood, is it FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified? Have your suppliers ever been fined or sued for polluting or for their labor practices? This may only apply to a small number of your suppliers, but it’s an important one to research.
Step 4: Keep score and track results.
After you’ve assessed your suppliers with the criteria above you may want to create a spreadsheet or a database of credible products and suppliers and track any cost differential. Determine how many of your products and/or suppliers meet your sustainability criteria. Track the cost differences, if any, that occur by choosing a more sustainable product. It could be that you save money, because after answering the question about need in Step 1, it’s clear you don’t actually need the product. Or, you may save money on a product over time because a product you’ve selected is reusable in some way, so you don’t have to continue reproducing it year after year.
Step 5: Review and repeat.
Be sure to continually review your supply chain, event to event and year after year. Knowledge about the sustainable impacts of materials, production and disposal of products is ever changing. Your suppliers’ practices may change over time and there may be a better choice for you. For every event, you should be repeating these steps to ensure you’re continuing the credibility and integrity of your supply chain and product selection.
To conclude, a sustainable procurement policy comes down to conscious decision making. Using the sustainability filter and criteria become a handy guide post to direct your decisions. But to really make it your own, you have to determine what works best with the policies, goals and commitments of your organization.
Amy Spatrisano, CMP, is principal, MeetGreen and has more than 22 years of experience in the meetings industry. She is co-founder of the Green Meeting Industry Council and co-author of “Simple Steps to Green Meetings and Events.” Spatrisano chaired the APEX Green Meetings and Events Practice Panel work in partnership with ASTM to develop green meeting standards for the meetings industry.