The Value of a Shared Sustainable Procurement Program to Existing Networks

EcoProcura logoI want to expand on the comment that I made during the final plenary of the Ecoprocura conference in Ghent, Belgium. The question to the audience was one about how to grow and strengthen the networks supporting sustainable public procurement (such as Procura+, 10YFP SPPI, etc), and how to interconnect them better. I began by providing some context, which is that the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council is a multi-sector, multi-regional and multi-stakeholder effort to create a shared program framework for guiding, benchmarking, and recognizing leadership in sustainable purchasing (by institutions in the public and private sectors). Organizations will be able to use the program to guide their efforts, conduct self-assessments, benchmark against peers and (optionally) report their performance to receive a third-party leadership rating.

The creation of this shared program is relevant to the question of building strong networks because it is our experience that strong networks form quickly and organically when multiple organizations are seeking to implement a common program. (The fact that everyone is pursuing a common path makes the value of collaboration very concrete and eases best practices sharing.)

It is the Council’s hope that the program framework we are developing will be useful to a wide variety of organizations in many regions and sectors. But we also expect that organizations with similar spend profiles will use it differently and will want communities of practice that support their particular implementation of the framework. We believe that existing communities of practice will best be able to meet that need for collaboration and, therefore, hope this will serve to boost participation in existing communities of practice such as Procura+ (municipalities in Europe), CEGESTI (latin american governments), 10YFP (nation states), Practice GreenHealth (hospitals), AASHE and SCUP (universities), ISM (North American private sector purchasers), and many more. Further, a shared program will allow more efficient and effective interconnections between these networks because the shared program will enable alignment of terminology, processes and more.

An example of how a shared program can “lift all boats” can be found in the green building movement. In the 1990s, every state, province, municipality, university and corporation that wanted to “build green” first had to define what that meant, create a training program, search-out knowledgeable vendors, and tirelessly tell their story in order to receive leadership recognition for their accomplishment. This was a significant obstacle to many organizations getting started with green building. It also meant that suppliers had to interface with hundreds of similar-but-different green building initiatives. Thanks to the creation of green building rating systems that integrated guidance, benchmarking and leadership recognition (such as BREEAM, LEED, DGNB and CASBEE) the complexity of doing green building was reduced both for building owners and suppliers, enabling many more organizations to participate in the green building movement. Today, it’s clear that this was a game-changer that radically accelerated the impact and effectiveness the movement.

A lot of collaboration on implementing these shared programs took place in the United States within pre-existing communities of practice, such as IFMA, Practice GreenHealth, ASID, AASHE and SCUP. As a result, tailored versions of LEED were created for existing buildings, hospitals, commercial interiors and organizations with many buildings (like university campuses). These green building programs enabled fruitful interconnections between initiatives and networks, making possible, for example, the work of the World Green Building Council to harmonize green building rating systems around the globe, where possible.

The Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council currently has 120 member organizations who believe that a shared program framework for sustainable procurement can have a powerfully catalyzing effect for the sustainable purchasing movement, including existing networks. We continue to seek diverse organizations to participate in our program development. In particular, we are seeking to engage a few leaders from each existing community of practice as that is the best way to ensure that the program we are developing is useful to that community of practice.