Sustainable purchasing gets its own umbrella organization

Literally dozens of organizations provide eco-guidance related to buying green products. What makes the Sustainable Purchasing Council (SPC) unique is its mission to help purchasing managers consider this process more holistically.

SPC, which launches officially at a July meeting in Washington, D.C., didn't set out to create its own rating system. Rather, it borrows a page from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building framework by using existing certifications and guidance to inform a systemic approach to institutional and corporate sustainable purchasing practices. GreenBiz senior writer Heather Clancy spoke with the council's executive director, Jason Pearson, about the council's initial priorities.

Heather Clancy: Why is this more than just another rating system? 

Jason Pearson: The first thing that’s important to say is that we did not set out to create a rating system. We set out to address the fact that institutional purchasers are asking for guidance on how to do sustainable purchasing comprehensively. They’re overwhelmed by the amount of product-specific guidance and hotspot-specific guidance out there, some of which is conflicting guidance.

Right now, any purchasing office wanting to implement a comprehensive sustainable purchasing program bears the burden of taking all that guidance that’s currently available and creating their own unique custom program out of it. They have to figure out what’s credible guidance and what’s greenwash; they have to figure out how to balance and fit together the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable purchasing; they have to create their own tools and training programs and performance metrics.

Obviously most purchasing organizations just don’t have the time or the training or the sustainability science to do all that, which is why many of them don’t get much further than recycled paper or energy-efficient appliances.

Clancy: Why do you point to the USGBC's LEED program as an inspiration?

Pearson: By coming together to codify the fundamentals in building green, the members of USGBC dramatically reduced the cost of green building and expanded who could do it. Suddenly contractors and architects and engineers who didn’t have degrees in environmental science were able to build genuinely green buildings and they didn’t have to be sustainability experts, because USGBC, as a community, did the hard work of figuring out what green building is and then organizing that guidance in an actionable format, a checklist.

Our goals are very similar: We want to bring people together to define what it means to comprehensively mitigate the impacts associated with all of an organization’s goods and services purchasing, and then organize that guidance into an actionable format that delivers high performance.

Next page: Members and priorities

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