Sustainable procurement

Today I came across this, on the Bath Spa University website, and I liked it. I know its work in progress and more is to be done – I’d love to see the staff wiki about the Sustainable Purchasing Guide and find out if they feel that’s working as a participative approach. I fell for the simplicity and colour, and that wonderful statement that ethical purchasing includes ‘looking at whether we need to make the purchase at all’.

I have spent quite a bit of time today exploring the policy context for sustainable purchasing in further and higher education, and this is what I came up with:

“A university’s procurement policy is one of its strongest ways of supporting sustainability.” This statement is from HEFCE, Sustainable development in higher education: 2008 update to strategic statement and action plan 2008 (page 20). HEFCE is playing a leading role in driving the sustainability agenda in higher education. It highlights the huge sum of money spent by universities collectively – if spent to sustainable criteria and goals it would bring about real changes.

An important stimulus was the Government  strategy for sustainable procurement, ‘Procuring the future’ (2006). This is designed to help the UK become a European leader in the field, with a flexible, five-stage framework setting out the actions that public sector organisations should adopt to improve the sustainability of their procurement policies. HEFCE encourages and support institutions’ adoption of the principles of the flexible framework.

Article 5 of the EU Energy Services Directive came into effect in May 2008. This requires the implementation of cost-effective sustainable procurement and energy efficiency measures. The public sector is called upon to lead by example. In practice, this means that equipment and vehicles should conform to the energy efficiency specifications detailed in the 2010 Government Buying Standards. (DEFRA, Sustainable Development in Practice).

The Efficiency and Modernisation Task Group was set up by Universities UK in September 2010 to identify ways in which institutions could work more efficiently.  The work of the Task Group was highlighted in the 2011 higher education white paper. Its 2011 report, Efficiency and effectiveness in higher education (better known as the Diamond review) made a number of recommendations for improving procurement. An action plan is also available.

In 2010, the European Commission published out EU Guidance on Social Considerations in Public Procurement: Social considerations should be decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on the subject matter of the contract and the objectives of the contracting authority. Social considerations include:

  • Promoting employment opportunities
  • Promoting decent work
  • Promoting compliance with social and labour rights
  • Supporting social inclusion and promoting social economy organisations
  • Promoting accessibility and design for all
  • Taking into account ethical trade issues
  • Seeking to achieve wider voluntary commitment to corporate social responsibility
  • Protecting against human rights abuse and encouraging respect for human rights
  • Promoting SMEs in so far as they can be connected with the considerations set out above

For colleges, the Association of Colleges has Regional Procurement Teams, and here is an example of a College procurement strategy that addresses sustainability issues: Langside College Sustainable Procurement Policy. This policy takes me back to where I started – policy inevitably is bureaucratic and dry. Yet it needs to speak out and respond to the stakeholders or it will not work. Langside College has provide a succinct and professional introduction to procurement at a high level on its website, perhaps directed first and foremost at staff and contractors, and the whole section on Environment on the Bath Spa site addresses students and staff. Two different examples of good communications, and hopefully good procurement too.


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