Sustainable purchasing leaders prepare best practice guides

During the first three years of its existence, the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC) focused largely on gathering knowledge from a growing network of corporate procurement professionals.

Over the next 12 months, the organization will start sharing more of that practical insight with its members, which now number close to 150 companies, hospitals, and government agencies.

Among the first things they can expect between now and SPLC’s upcoming summit in May: a series of playbooks that offer guidance on procurement practices for eight broad categories, according to SPLC’s executive director Jason Pearson. The topics mirror the areas covered in the manifesto that SPLC circulated to about 80 companies for review last year, a document aptly named “Guidance for Leadership in Sustainable Purchasing Version 1.0.”

Here is that list in alphabetical order:

  • Chemically intensive products
  • Construction and renovation materials
  • Electricity (especially renewables)
  • Food and beverage supplies
  • Information technology equipment,
  • Professional services.
  • Transportation equipment and fuels
  • Wood and agribusiness products

The feedback that SPLC gathered after sharing the Guidance last year informed the decision to create separate frameworks detailing best practices related to very specific areas. The goal: make the information simpler for operations professionals to digest.

“This year, as we see it, our job is to take the work that we and our volunteer partners have done and turn it into practical tools,” Pearson told GreenBiz during a recent interview.

Another initiative to watch closely is SPLC’s Committee on Supplier Ratings, which was formed to assess how existing sustainability ratings information might be used for decision-making by procurement teams. The first phase of this research, funded by software giant Microsoft, included input from SPLC along with the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings and the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition. More work is planned by this team in the months to come, once sponsorship funding falls into place, Pearson said.

According to its mission statement, the Washington, D.C.-based SPLC was formed with the goal of helping organizations “measure whether their implementation of sustainable purchasing actually results in meaningful improvements for society, the planet, and the purchaser.” The group’s founding corporate members included Aflac, Dell, Domtar, FedEx, Goodyear, JCPenney, Lockheed Martin, Office Depot, SciQuest, and Waste Management. Here are the council’s core principles

Unlike The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), with which it often exchanges and shares ideas, SPLC doesn’t concern itself with the sustainability profile of individual products. Its overriding goal is to help corporations, universities and hospitals understand which purchasing habits its make the most sense to change for economic and environmental reasons. The two organizations maintain an informal relationship, although Pearson said a more formal alliance isn’t out of the question for the future. SPLC already teams with the Product Stewardship Institute and close to a dozen other consortia and non-profit groups

“We see economic viability as a precondition for any definition of leadership in sustainable purchasing, and we even expect that some users will adopt our guidance exclusively for its cost-saving benefits,” Pearson wrote shortly after the SPLC’s launch in 2013.

Aside from the playbooks, another priority for SPLC in the coming months is gathering data that could be used to establish more formal benchmarks for its membership. “Organizations are interested in being able to tell where they sit relative to their peers,” Pearson said. “We may rate organizations, or we may not. What we do know is that there is strong demand for benchmarking.”

Some of the information could be extrapolated from the next batch of case studies being submitted for SPLC’s next leadership awards, which will be presented at its summit in late May. There are 10 award categories, recognizing everything from purchasing innovation to market transformation to supplier leadership. (SPLC is accepting applications for the awards until March 18.)