Sustainable journey

A few of Canada's sustainability and procurement leaders provide advice on moving your operations towards a greener future

January 9, 2017
Michael Power

From the December 2016 print edition

In recent years, procurement has seen sustainability move from a set of tasks done off the side of the desk to a value that’s integrated into the purchasing function and the supply chain. Sustainability has moved to not only a top priority for procurement professionals but also a core value for many organizations. Sustainability—while for some a concept still limited to environmentally friendly or “green” products, recycling and similar ideas—benefits not only the environment but also corporate social responsibility and the bottom line. Companies and organizations now realize this, and are incorporating sustainability into their business practices.

PurchasingB2B spoke via email to several sustainability and procurement experts about their own companies’ journeys to sustainability, what challenges they encountered, successes they’ve accrued and best practices they can pass along to other organizations.
One such company to recently look at its procurement practices through a sustainability lens is lululemon. In 2016, the Vancouver-based athletic apparel company’s global procurement team was in the process of developing policy and strategy, says Julie Strilesky, sustainability operations manager. At the same time, the procurement and sustainability functions both acquired new leadership, which offered a timely chance to integrate sustainability into the procurement function.

Sustainability has now been included in lululemon’s global procurement policy, and the company is integrating social, environmental, economic and transparency considerations into its sourcing, Strilesky says.

“Since we started, nearly a dozen projects will have sustainable criteria incorporated into the products and services being purchased,” she says. “Projects underway in the coming months include energy procurement for North America, building management systems and fixtures for our stories.”

Initially, lululemon has focused on developing tools and resources that were made available to the procurement team so they are educated about standards and opportunities, she said. The team has included sustainability considerations in its global policy and procurement tools, and works with partners and clients within the company to add a sustainability element to sourcing events.

In doing so, the procurement department is driven on a personal level to put initiatives in place while learning about opportunities along the way. “One leader within the team has conducted extensive research to understand possibilities for better impact polybags, and has given potential suppliers the challenge of differentiating themselves on their sustainability offerings,” Stilesky says.

While lululemon’s journey is still in its early stages, the company has made progress in the number and range of projects examined through the lens of sustainability as well as the collaboration created between the sustainability and procurement teams, she adds. Lululemon has seen a number of wins, including green energy use in Australia, FSC-certified recyclable gift cars and recycled content in polybags and cardboard boxes.

The journey has also taught the company several things, including the importance of getting engaged in projects early in the procurement process, fostering strong communication between teams, as well as the value of upfront education—both on the “why” and the “how” of sustainability initiatives. As well, the importance of ensuring that leadership and decision-makers are on board and champion sustainability efforts, clearly establishing what success should look like for each project based on factors like quality, cost, the environment, delivery and so on.

For procurement organizations looking to embark on the path to more sustainable operations, lululemon recommends developing a deep understanding of the business, as well as who the decision-makers are, and communicate and build relationships with executives and functions across the organization.
“Once someone understands and trusts you, you are far more likely to get traction,” Stilesky says. “Timing is also critical as is being aware of budget cycles and current company conditions.”
UBC’s sustainability journey

In its sustainability journey, the University of British Columbia has developed both supplier outreach material and a sustainable purchasing guide—designed for university employees to help them make sustainable buying decisions—all of which is available on the institution’s website ( The material came about as the school was doing outreach to it’s various departments to ask why they weren’t ordering ethical and sustainable items, says Victoria Wakefield, the university’s manager of purchasing and operations, student housing and hospitality services. The answer, she says, was simple: departments wanted to source better options but hadn’t been provided with a guide on how to do so. UBC had committed at the corporate level to integration of its operational and academic efforts in sustainability, and there was already commitment to going green long before the need for the guide became apparent, she says.

The payoff was big since the items included in the guide fell outside of university-wide contracts. “The items in the guide are typically within a spend level that units are left to source themselves within acceptable budgets,” Wakefield notes. “Many of these items are low hanging fruit and campus departments were looking for some guidance on the best sustainable choices for small spend items.”

While the University of British Columbia is over 100 years old, the institution’s sustainability journey begins relatively recently, in 1990, when it signed the Talloires Declaration that enshrined the commitment of higher learning institutions to make sustainability a foundation for campus operations, research and teaching. Since then, UBC became the first campus in Canada to adopt—a sustainable development policy and to open an office devoted to campus sustainability. In 2007, the school met its Kyoto Protocol targets and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by six percent below 1990 levels.

“There has been many challenges along the way and some great setbacks, but if you consider setbacks opportunities to learn more and establish a better vision it keeps momentum moving in the right direction,” says Wakefield.

The university also completed a zero waste action plan in 2014, she notes. The province’s landfills are full, and with over 400 buildings on the Point Grey Campus, there are myriad opportunities to show leadership in achieving zero waste. Focusing and prioritizing where products will end up at end of use—even before those products are procured—has provided the procurement team with an ongoing project. “We have rolled out a campaign called ‘sort-it-out’ and that is exactly what we’ve been doing,” she says. “From composting to construction waste we have sorted it out!”

Talking, networking and learning from others on campus has helped UBC keep on the right path in its journey, Wakefield says. Staying connected and listening to both successes and challenges—then trying new approaches—has yielded results. The school’s climate action plan commits to a 33-percent reduction by 2015, a 67-percent reduction by 2020 and 100 percent by 2050. UBC is now investing in large-scale energy retrofits, alternative energy systems and engagement strategies to meet those energy and climate targets.

“What’s worked well has been setting outrageously bold goals,” she says. “We need to achieve different results to sustain the population and if we do not do things dramatically different we will not achieve the results needed. It will take courage and risks and looking at water, and energy and waste differently than ever before. At UBC, sustainability is not just a word to define—it’s a word that defines us.”
Building sustainability

Procurement and sourcing departments require support from upper management when enacting sustainability practices, notes Eric Noue, director of strategic sourcing, strategic sourcing office, at Manulife-John Hancock. To get that support, it’s critical that any sustainability action lines up with the company’s overall strategic priorities, he says. As well, any of those initiatives must have benefits—be they financial, social or otherwise—that would result from putting them into effect. “Sustainability is about getting the most out of the dollars we invest in our buildings while making changes that result in better building environment and ultimately contributing to higher personnel productivity and satisfaction levels,” he says.

For its part, Manulife-John Hancock has implemented an improved toner recycling program, which works with vendors to return used toner cartridges directly to the vendor. Those vendors track and collect those toner cartridges at no shipping costs to the company. Along with this, the Manulife Global Asset Management Group also has an environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy that outlines how the organization integrates the evaluation of risks into its investment process, Noue says. In 2015, Manulife Asset Management also became a signatory to the United Nations–supported Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) initiative.

The company’s new office tower developments look to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification as the basis for design, Noue notes, with a focus on reducing operational energy consumption. Designs also specify high levels of durability for equipment to improve performance and reduce replacement costs and waste over a building’s lifecycle, he says. This approach focuses on reducing the operational lifecycle costs of its buildings and the waste they generate. Noue notes that the company is reducing energy consumption in its real estate through:

  • Occupancy sensors: ensures light, heat and ventilation systems in office spaces only turn fully on when the building detects people inside.
  • Energy-efficient devices: installing or upgrading to modern devices that permit reduced energy use intensity, such as LED lighting.
  • Innovative equipment: installing equipment such as magnetic bearing chillers. The motor in this type of chiller rests on magnetic bearings and levitates when turned on. It encounters less running resistance, reduces energy consumption and requires less frequent maintenance.

The journey to sustainability may be a challenging one at times, but also one that can yield rewards. Organizations undertaking steps to become more sustainable have a wide breadth of resources available to them, as well as others on the same journey to learn from.