Collaborating for sustainability—June print edition

Emerging trends and strategic approaches to limited resourcing

July 8, 2013
by By Tim Reeve

Procurement departments within municipalities constantly have to perform with limited resources. Many municipalities across the country have to work both harder and smarter to overcome such shortfalls. A strategic approach used to overcome this emerging trend is sustainable purchasing, which is gaining ground among Canadian municipalities. Sustainable purchasing not only helps municipalities strategically confront the limited availability of resources, but also leverages procurement to achieve positive environmental and social impacts.

Why sustainable purchasing?
City councils and other key decision-makers are recognizing that sustainable procurement can add value to existing civic objectives, contributing to sustainability goals such as zero waste and carbon neutrality. Sustainable procurement can add value to corporate objectives by reducing risk, increasing operational efficiency, engaging staff and demonstrating leadership. These value-added deliverables enhance the reputation across the country of the municipality as a sustainability champion, amongst peers, vendors and the public at large.

Sustainable purchasing is a relatively new practice for Canadian municipalities and many are reaching out to their peers in order to share their knowledge and experience in this area. One of the ways in which municipalities are doing this is through the Municipal Collaboration on Sustainable Purchasing (MCSP), which is a cross-country peer network that is also a front-runner in the area sustainable purchasing and provides municipalities with opportunities to share sustainable purchasing lessons, best practices, “tricks of the trade” and other resources to advance their sustainability agendas.

The group recently launched a publication co-authored by Reeve Consulting, its secretariat and technical expert, entitled The State of Municipal Sustainable Procurement in Canada. The report details the current state of sustainable purchasing in Canada, while highlighting emerging trends, main challenges and top priorities in sustainable purchasing in 2012. The publication also presents readers with a national snapshot of the state of sustainable purchasing in Canada based on the self-assessed progress of the MCSP’s 14 participants across 10 key program areas for successful sustainable purchasing. These represent the main ingredients for a robust sustainable purchasing program.

Sustainable purchasing drivers
The study found that 2012 was a turning point in municipal sustainable procurement. Many municipalities began taking strategic approaches to their programs largely due to resource constraints. These approaches include:

• In response to increased staffing and resource constraints, municipalities enhanced their collaboration with MCSP peer and other agencies and strategically leveraged existing relationships and shared resources;

• Inter-departmental collaborations were also strengthened especially between procurement and sustainability. Other departments were also engaged, for example the formation of inter-department green teams, to increase program buy-in and instill changes to behaviour regarding municipal spending; and

• Greater focus on implementation. Recognizing that it takes two-to-five-years to form a comprehensive program, many municipalities took a dual-track approach, dividing resources between building program elements and targeting key contracts such as copy paper (that has a mature sustainability market).

Future trends
Overall, 2012 is considered a turning point in municipal sustainable procurement in Canada due to the focus on collaboration. In 2013, municipalities are focused on rolling out wider implementation of their programs and developing metrics to track and report performance and success stories, the report says. This will be an especially critical component of the program by presenting the value proposition to councillors and other municipal staff. With insufficient levels in their resource pools, forming stronger and wider collaborations for sustainable purchasing will be more important than ever.

With municipalities increasingly making the practice a priority, sustainable purchasing is gaining momentum in Canada. MCSP offers municipalities the chance to participate in networking teleconferences, webinars and action planning sessions on sustainable purchasing through the year. Canadian municipalities are encouraged to participate in the MCSP, regardless of their size, to fast track their program development, advance their individual sustainability agendas, and ultimately form part of the larger sustainability movement across the civil sector in Canada.

Tim Reeve is president of Reeve Consulting, a boutique consultancy specializing in procurement and sustainability. He manages the Municipal Collaboration for Sustainable Purchasing.