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Last fall, AASHE partnered with the Green Products Roundtable (GPR) on a pilot project that examined the impacts associated with an average higher education institution’s spending. One of the project’s goals was to produce insights into how the thirteen procurement-related credits in STARS could be enhanced. That goal was accomplished when GPR submitted twenty pages of analysis during the STARS public comment period. The second goal of the project was to pilot the concept of a LEED-like assessment and leadership recognition program for sustainability in institutional procurement. In the end, the project gave GPR’s leadership confidence to move forward with the formation of a new organization that would create just such a program: the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council.

After many months in incubation, the Council will celebrate its inception with a Launch Event that will be webcast from American University on July 23rd at 1pm ET. Click on the webcast graphic below to register for the event!

In anticipation of this exciting event, I interviewed the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council’s Director of Outreach, Sam Hummel.

Q: What is the problem that the Council is going to solve?

The thing holding the sustainable purchasing movement back from being the force that transforms our economy for good is a lack of standardization in how sustainable purchasing is defined, guided, measured and rewarded. Right now, there are literally thousands – maybe even tens of thousands – of organizations in the US alone that have created unique sustainable purchasing policies that are similar but also different to everyone else. That means they can’t easily share training programs. It means suppliers are getting all kinds of mixed signals. It means we’re all tracking and measuring our performance differently, which makes meaningful benchmarking nearly impossible. Without comparable metrics and benchmarking, we can’t have a credible third party leadership recognition program. And as a result, leadership recognition in sustainable purchasing right now is whatever someone says they are doing in their Earth Day press release.

Fortunately, we’ve been here before. The green building movement faced very similar barriers in the mid-90s. The breakthrough in that movement came when visionary stakeholders on all sides of the marketplace came together to define a shared program for guiding, measuring and recognizing leadership in green building. As we all know now, LEED blew the doors open on green building. It turned out, that many organizations were happy to do green building once the experts had come to consensus on how to do it. In 2012, McGrawHill estimated that 44% of all new commercial construction starts were green buildings. Green building is quickly on its way to being the norm!

The Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council is going to do for the procurement profession what the US Green Building Council did for the building professions. It’s going to bring together subject experts to identify the best available guidance on hotspots, products, processes and tools. Then it will organize that guidance into a program framework that will allow procurement professionals to get their hands around all the impacts in their spending. It will support them in taking credible actions to address those impacts. And finally, it will provide them with good, better, best leadership recognition when they do.

Q: How long before all of that will be available?

A: We expect to be providing our members with actionable guidance within 6 months. One of those earlier deliverables includes a set of guiding principles for leadership in sustainable purchasing that have the consensus of experts and practitioners alike. Another is a Buyer’s Guide for organizations looking to obtain an analysis of the impacts associated with their spending. That will be accompanied by training on conducting and interpreting spend-related impact assessments. Within twelve months we expect to have an early draft of an Action Planning Guide, which will help organizations develop a multi-year plans for strategically mitigating the largest impacts within their spending – similar to the climate action planning guidance organizations need after doing a GHG inventory. We’ll have technical working groups identifying the best available guidance for high priority product and service categories – and translating it into solicitation-ready guidance for use by members. All along the way, members will get a lot of benefits from participating in the dynamic community of practice the Council is already attracting. Within two years, we expect to have the first draft of the leadership recognition program ready for members to pilot. We expect that organizations will be well prepared to earn leadership recognition when that program is ready if they’ve been taking advantage of the Buyer’s Guide, Action Planning Guide, solicitation-ready guidance and other tools we’ll have produced in the interim.

Q: Who is behind the Council?

The Council is emerging from four years of work by the Green Products Roundtable, a multi-stakeholder forum convened by the Keystone Center in 2008. Many of those same organizations are involved in launching the Council but a number of new organizations have come on as founding members of the Council. From higher education, five institutions – American University, Arizona State University, Emory University, Michigan State University and Portland Community College – were some of the first to sign on. (All of them are AASHE members!)

Governments that have joined include the states of California and Minnesota, the municipalities of Washington DC, San Francisco, Portland and King County, WA (Seattle). A number of federal agencies have been closely involved for years, including the EPA, Dept of Energy and the General Services Administration.

FairTrade USA, UL Environment, DEKRA, GreenCircle Certified, SCS Global, the Social Hotspots Database and the CIPS Sustainability Index have joined in a membership category that we call “market advisors.”

On the supplier side, Office Depot, Ecolab, FedEx, Domtar, SciQuest, CarbonNeutral Compnay and Apex Clean Energy are some of our founding members.

Q: How can people reading this get involved?

A: To make sure they never miss an opportunity to get engaged, they should sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter. Then, they should register to attend our Launch Event webcast. It’s free. Finally, our general membership program will be launching at the beginning of September, so they should go ahead and get their organization primed to join in the fun.

Q: How much credit can AASHE and higher education take for the launch of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council?

A: That’s a fun question – and a good one! The higher education community has been a leader in the sustainable purchasing movement for decades. Higher education campuses were leaders in starting recycling programs and it was recycling programs that led to many of the first sustainable purchasing initiatives. At the time, it was a struggle to get manufacturers to take the collected recyclables and turn them into new products, so campuses and municipalities that were leaders in collecting recycled materials launched “buy recycled” campaigns that aimed to “close the loop.”

The sustainable procurement movement has now expanded far beyond recycled content, incorporating both social and environmental impacts. Higher education institutions have been and still are leaders in that expansion to include supplier diversity, buying local, fair trade, sweat-free sourcing, renewable energy, green cleaning, green building, mercury free products, and so many other sustainable sourcing initiatives.

The successful pilot project GPR conducted with AASHE and STARS was obviously important to the decision to go forward with the launch of the Council. We’re very glad to have AASHE as a founding partner of the Council.

That said, it’s important to note that the Council’s launch is the result of significant contributions by broad group of stakeholders from a number of sectors, including government, manufacturing, retail, NGOs, certifiers and standards developers.

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