Event Recap

BCSPI Purchasing Power: How can procurement support zero waste?

Dec 27th, 2022

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) brings together local governments and institutions to develop and grow social procurement policies and practices. BCSPI is supported by Buy Social Canada, Scale Collaborative, and Vancouver Island Construction Association.

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) recently hosted an event in the second annual “Purchasing Power” series titled “How can procurement support zero waste?”

We spoke with industry leaders, Sue Maxwell, Board Chair of Zero Waste BC, and Jane Rushton, Purchasing Manager at City of Nanaimo. Our conversation focused on how local governments and institutions can take steps to embed zero waste goals and criteria in their purchases. Here are the key lessons and best practice tips.

Here are the key lessons and best practice tips:

1. Think about value, not just price

In addition to looking at the waste created by different procurements and activities, Sue Maxwell reminds us that it’s important to look at the impact of products purchased. Things like toxicity, the volume of materials, if an item is single-use or not, all have impacts beyond just waste – impacts that are not always reflected in lowest price decision-making.

Including social and environmental goals in your procurement process is about achieving best value within your existing budget. While price and quality are still part of the equation, social and environmental criteria are also added to the evaluation of bids.

Including zero waste in public procurement represents a large opportunity. Many communities are adopting zero waste policies as part of their climate change plans. Zero waste commitments can lead to community benefits. Re-use it and Re-build it centres, such as Habitat for Humanity ReStores, are a great example of this as they’re often places where waste is diverted from landfill and profits are reinvested into community services.

2. Think about the lifecycle of the materials you buy

“All waste we have is something we bought” – Sue Maxwell.

The zero waste movement is ultimately about changing the way we consume things. Both Jane Rushton and Sue Maxwell identified procurement as a powerful tool to drive change and encourage suppliers to account for product lifecycles.

When you think about the lifecycle of a product, there are easy low-hanging-fruit opportunities to consider. Sue suggests conducting an analysis of the things you buy most to look for what may not be necessary at all. Another option is to look at your purchases of single use items or products that are not easy to repair. Maybe there’s an alternative that will extend the life of your purchases and keep waste out of landfills.

3. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel

“Leverage what people have built before you” – Jane Rushton

Jane emphasizes the power of relying on precedent and best practice examples when developing a procurement process or policy that includes zero waste and other social and sustainable goals. In addition to taking advantage of the templates and tools BCSPI shares with members, Jane also spoke to other procurement staff who were implementing zero waste goals in their purchasing to learn about what was and wasn’t working.

Shared learning and examples are especially helpful for small teams that might not have dedicated zero waste staff.

4. Leave room for storytelling

Jane shared that because the inclusion of social and environmental goals in the City of Nanaimo purchasing policy is still relatively new, the policy “doesn’t have a stick, it’s more aspirational.”

Rather than setting hard targets or penalties, the City is showing a commitment to achieving zero waste, backed by criteria in Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and other procurement processes that award supplier actions to deliver on these goals.

Jane also says the City was sure to “leave room for storytelling” in order to make sure there was still room for small and medium enterprises to respond to bids. Suppliers are asked to talk about what they will do, providing descriptions of how they can contribute to municipal goals, rather than creating hurdles or prescriptive outcomes they must satisfy.

This approach helps vendors to become ready for the new direction at the City while giving the market space to speak to what can be possible.

Two concrete actions you can take now:

1. “Define it, move it forward, and bring the vendor community on board. Commodity by commodity we are going to make a difference.” – Jane Rushton

2. “Help raise awareness for City Councils about what is possible. Develop a committee for zero waste in community to collaborate locally and show the impacts.” – Sue Maxwell

Watch the full recording to learn more:

Please contact Rob Fisher at rfisher@scalecollaborative.ca to find out more about becoming a BCSPI member, and sign up for the BCSPI newsletter to stay up to date on procurement news, events and offerings.

We hope we’ll see you at the next Purchasing Power event on February 1, 2023: How can procurement help address poverty?


For your reference and continued learning, here are the resources and links shared during the event:

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