5 Reasons SPLC is Moving Fast… And Why That’s OK.

SPLC has committed to release our Guidance for Leadership in Sustainable Purchasing Version 1.0 by the end of 2014. This is an ambitious agenda, particularly for a young, boot-strapping organization with a small staff (2.5 FTE) tackling a complex topic (leadership in sustainable purchasing) in a very short timeframe (six months). So why are we moving so fast? Shouldn’t we slow down and take more time developing this important guidance? We think not. And here’s why.

1. We are not reinventing the wheel. We are not starting with a blank page. Most of the guidance that will be included in our Guidance v1.0 already exists. The work of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and eight purchasing category-specific Technical Advisory Groups (TAG’s) is to collaborate with staff to collect, identify, and organize this existing  guidance in a framework that supports leadership action. Of course, this still requires the TAC and TAGs to make sometimes difficult judgment calls, but it does not require TAC, TAGs, or staff to write guidance from scratch. Nor does it (yet) require the TAC or TAGs to assign weights or points to different actions, since this is guidance, not a rating system.

2. We leverage a community of expert volunteers. Over 90 experts–from the purchaser, supplier, and public interest advocate communities–have volunteered to participate as members of the TAC and TAGs to help us assemble the Guidance v1.0. These groups have been meeting regularly, sometimes as often as weekly, to collaborate with SPLC staff in creating the materials set for approval in December and opening for Pilot in January 2015.

3. Controversy doesn’t slow us down. Each TAG is asked to identify the most significant environmental, social, or economic consequences of purchasing in a particular category… and also to prioritize the most effective methods for addressing those impacts. This is done by connecting existing solutions to mitigation of the significant impacts identified, with no preference given to any particular strategy. Where TAGs can efficiently reach consensus on these questions, we embed that consensus in the guidance. Where they cannot, we simply document the key arguments. In future versions of the Guidance, we will return to these topics to push for consensus, but not in Version 1.0.

4. Speed forces prioritization. We are creating guidance for leadership, and leadership means prioritization. Not just doing things right, but doing the right thing. By insisting on a short timeline for the development of Version 1.0, we are encouraging the TAC and TAGs to exemplify leadership by focusing on only the most important, practical, readily available guidance. In the age-old metaphor of forest and trees, we are asking our TAC and TAGs to start with the forest, as a whole (based on available guidance), leave the trees (more detailed guidance) for Version 2.0, and postpone getting into the weeds (resolving long-standing controversies) to Versions 3.0 and beyond.

5. Imperfect is good enough… for now. History teaches us the role of failure in successful design: that rapid prototyping of less-than-perfect solutions is the most efficient pathway to the best solutions, and we have taken that lesson to heart. Version 1.0 will not be perfect, but we’re not letting (im)perfection be the enemy of doing something that is good enough, for now: creating, for the first time, a comprehensive, consistent, practical framework for exercising leadership in sustainable purchasing. A framework on which we can all continue to build upon in the months and years ahead.

Moving fast is not easy. In fact, it is downright uncomfortable. For our staff. For our stakeholders. And particularly for the many generous volunteers who make up our Board, Strategic Advisory Committee, Technical Advisory Committee, and Technical Advisory Groups. But the unease which we may experience in moving this fast is the constructive discomfort of true collaborative innovation. Our reward will be the creation of Version 1.0 as a truly integrated program for institutional leadership in sustainable purchasing. It will not be perfect, by any measure, but it will still be a tremendously valuable resource for institutional purchasers. A good solid start.

And if you would like to help us to improve upon it in Version 2.0, please sign up to help us start piloting the Version 1.0 in January, 2015!

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