BCSPI Purchasing Power Recap: How can social procurement address climate change?

Feb 17th, 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, Presentations Plus and Vancouver Island Construction Association.

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) hosted the fifth event in the “Purchasing Power” series, titled “How can social procurement address climate change?”

Kristi Fairholm-Mader, BCSPI Project Manager and series moderator, shared learnings with Karen Elliott, Mayor of the District of Squamish and BCSPI Steering Committee co-chair, and Yamila Franco, Social Impact Entrepreneur.

Here are the key lessons and best practice tips from our discussion with them about using social procurement to strengthen climate change response and environmental wellbeing in your community.

1 Policy is a powerful tool for change

When the District of Squamish began to implement social procurement, they started with their Purchasing Policy.

“We felt it was the opportunity to start socializing the idea and educating our elected officials, our staff, and our community.” – Mayor Karen Elliott

Mayor Elliott suggests that when updating your purchasing policy, you should leverage your definitions sections and make clear commitments to social and environmental outcomes.

Changes in policy also allow governments to push and change markets, and to revisit their internal processes.

 “We can see that governments are beginning to ask for different things. They’re creating market signaling. And then alongside saying these outcomes will be required, governments can also take a look at their own processes to allow for those organizations and companies to be able to respond in that fair, transparent, competitive manner.” – Kristi Fairholm-Mader

An emerging best practice to support social procurement implementation is to include standardized questionnaires for environmental and social considerations to bid documents or vendor prequalification process. BCSPI has developed a resource for members to support you in creating your own standardized questionnaire, which can be found alongside other implementation resources in the Member Home. This yes/no with evidence format allows you to evaluate and weigh bids based on their environmental or social impact, while minimizing subjectivity.

2 Measurement matters

Measurement is important not only to track the environmental or social impacts of your purchasing, but also to see where you’re starting from.

Mayor Elliott suggests starting small, and making it visual. She also shared that BCSPI is working with Royal Roads University to develop a measurement framework for all members to use so we can understand the cumulative impact of the initiative.

“The value as we build out BCSPI is that we’re going to have hopefully a hundred or more municipalities all reporting in the same way through our measurement framework and we’ll be able to show both the province and across the country just how much impact everyone pulling in the same direction can have.” – Mayor Karen Elliott

Yamila Franco suggests using an existing standard or framework to inform some of your strategies for measurement, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She also urges us to remember that impact can be about the byproducts of what you sell or make as a producer, or what you buy as an organization.

3 Think about the lifecycle of goods you procure

Most of the goods we purchase have impacts long after they stop being useful. Yamila previously worked at Nyoka, a company that makes sustainable glow sticks. She shared that traditional glow sticks continue to have impacts hundreds of years down the line on marine life, soil, and more. These impacts tie back to the economy, and to a concept called circular economy.

“If you look at plastic waste as a whole, and the fact that there’s so much waste and now you have waste leaking into the oceans, and then you have animals and fish being affected… how does that impact aquaculture for example? or what about fishing communities?

“That is that circularity, we’re looking at what does it impact along the way. Honestly we are losing more money than what we’re making for not thinking in that circular way, because if you look at how our decisions impact other economies and local economies… we pay for it one way or another.” – Yamila Franco

4 Leverage certifications to avoid greenwashing

Certifications are useful for both suppliers and governments.

For suppliers, Yamila suggests finding a standard to align your business with, like the B Corp model, or UN SDGs – and seeing how you can implement their practices and recommendations into your work.

“A lot of people are already doing amazing work in their businesses but they just don’t know how to identify it or how to amplify it. Finding a standard to align with can help with this” – Yamila Franco

By following these existing certifications or standards, you can also find a network of likeminded businesses to learn from.

Of course, certification isn’t always an option for suppliers. If you aren’t certified, Yamila emphasizes that “it also matters how you tell your story and how you report on your impact … certification isn’t impact, certification is a byproduct of impact.”

For governments, searching for certifications or adding them to your RFx evaluation and weighting can support businesses, and help you to avoid companies who are greenwashing but don’t deliver on social value outcomes.

Certifying bodies also can support governments to connect with businesses, matching suppliers and purchasers to support ease of procurement.

5 Climate change is a social issue

Kristi notes that some people conflate social procurement and sustainable procurement, or that these terms are sometimes used interchangeable. But we’ve seen that when sustainable procurement is the language used, sometimes the social falls away. Climate change is an issue with social causes and social impacts, which are not equally felt across communities. And social procurement can and often does include environmental considerations as well – the Squamish Purchasing Policy is one great example of this.

Yamila also highlights that solving problems like climate change also requires diversity and inclusion in our teams, and in our networks. If we want to bring change and have impact at a local level, we need people connected to those communities.

She adds that “diversity and inclusion can also lead to more creativity, more innovation when solving problems that matter to those communities.”

Two concrete actions you can take now:

  1. “Start shifting your thinking away from the bottom line. Then, go read your procurement policy and think about its power to do more.” – Mayor Karen Elliott
  1. “Action starts with culture. Try to shift your internal culture, talk with coworkers, share your knowledge, and work together to brainstorm next steps.” – Yamila Franco

Watch the recording to learn more:

Please contact Rob Fisher at rfisher@scalecollaborative to find out more about becoming a BCSPI member.

We hope we’ll see you at future BCSPI events.

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

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