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Sustainable Procurement in the Public Sector.

There seems to be a general consensus that sustainable procurement is a good thing. The World Bank has issued sustainable procurement guidance (ref 1), there is an ISO assessment available (ref 2), CIPS supports it (ref 3), HM Treasury monitors central government application (ref 4) and there are the Government Buying Standards (ref 5).

Legislation also encourages sustainable procurement The Local Government Act of 2000 required Local Authorities to consider.

  1. The promotion or improvement of the economic well-being of their area,
  2. the promotion or improvement of the social well-being of their area, and
  3. the promotion or improvement of the environmental well-being of their area.

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 added,

The authority must consider - (a) how what is proposed to be procured might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area, and (b) how, in conducting the process of procurement, it might act with a view to securing that improvement.

The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 maintain boundaries for "Horizontal Policies" but the conditions for performance defined in Art 70 (2) "may include economic, innovation-related, environmental or employment-related considerations" acknowledge the importance of these elements.

Universities do look at this market sector, (ref 6a, ref 6b, ref 6c) though specific research is rare (ref 7 & ref 8).

The indications from this research of patchy coverage are perhaps supported by a brief online survey of published procurement policies (ref 9a, ref 9b, ref 9c, ref 9d). The research also suggest that costs together with a lack of senior management are a barrier to the application of sustainable procurement practice and this observation would have my anecdotal support.

Professional procurement departments should gradually increase the application of sustainable procurement policies and highlight long term cost savings that overcome any initial resource costs. Such arguments are more difficult to win in the cost cutting environment that the public sector has been in for a number of years.

The absolute cost savings may not be significant to encourage senior management enthusiasm. The recent Parliamentary report, "After Carillion: Public sector outsourcing and contracting" (ref 10) refers to a different procurement issue, but it highlighted the overriding focus on short term costs and suggesting a widening of award criteria. However this alone is unlikely to change the behaviour of managers continually targeted with making savings.

Enthusiasm from Senior Management is likely to increase quickly if user groups, rate payers and the public in general make demands on local and national politicians. All parties have environmental policies relating to sustainability, irrespective of individual policies, the importance of applying these policies is driven by the public's interest and the public's interest is increasing (ref 11, ref 12).

Perhaps procurement professionals can persuade senior managers to get ahead of the curve.