Making sustainable purchasing decisions

Posted on: 29 November 2022 in Issue 4

Mark Walton, Head of Procurement, answers some key questions on how the University is working towards embedding responsible procurement principles across the Institution and how these align with the University’s commitment to net zero.

Decisions around the products we buy and the services we use at the University have major socio-economic and environmental implications, both locally and globally. To minimise their impact, and ensure a long-term approach is applied to all purchasing decisions, sustainability needs to be integrated into all aspects of our procurement processes.

What is sustainable procurement? 

Sustainable procurement is wider than environmental sustainability considerations. It is also about embedding economic sustainability and social value, by being mindful of everything that we purchase and the associated supply chains, with the intention of reducing adverse impacts upon the economy, social conditions and the environment.

What sustainable purchasing practices exist at the University? 

The University is a member of the North Western Universities Purchasing Consortium (NWUPC). So a lot of what we buy is through framework agreements created by this and other Higher Education consortia throughout the country.

The NWUPC measure the impact of responsible procurement to drive positive change, so by supporting those agreements, we're helping to support sustainability. For example, we use the National Desktop and Notebook Agreement (NDNA) for laptops and desktop computers. Through that, we're associate members of Electronics Watch who work to protect the rights of workers within the electronics supply chains. Relatively speaking we are a minor player, but collectively, we are using our leverage to put pressure on manufacturers to manage their procurement activities in a responsible and sustainable manner.

What plans do you have in place to improve sustainable procurement at the University?

Our current Procurement Policy states that we will manage our procurement activities in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner. To achieve this, we need to develop the appropriate targets, key performance indicators and be explicit about what the procedures are that support those targets.

It is also a priority for us to look at our carbon footprint, particularly the Scope 3 emissions associated with procurement and how we can measure them more effectively.

We will shortly be appointing two key roles – a Head of Category and Sustainable Procurement Lead and a Category Manager Sustainability, Estates and Facilities - who will focus on these areas.

The appointment of the Circular Economy Manager and Waste and Recycling Officer within the Sustainability Team in FRCS will also help to guide the development of our future sustainable procurement plans.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the University in terms of improving its sustainable procurement practices and reaching these targets? 

We can't make positive change by ourselves. Ultimately, the Procurement Department doesn't buy anything or spend any money, we simply put the facilities in place to encourage people to reduce demand, consume less and buy responsibly.

One of the biggest challenges for us is empowering people to incorporate those sustainable procurement practices into their work and personal lives. For example, a key impact area for us is travel and transport, and we need to influence people to consider the range of sustainable travel solutions available at the University.

Achieving cultural change is a gradual process, but ultimately, it is our aim to help develop the knowledge and skills needed to support sustainable processes and behaviours around procurement within the University and wider community.

In what ways are you working towards net zero in the Procurement Department? 

Procurement of goods and services produces emissions from indirect activities which extend far beyond the University’s own emissions, from companies throughout the supply chain. These Scope 3 emissions are difficult to measure compared to Scopes 1 and 2. So, we use a supplier engagement tool, called NET Positive FUTURES which helps suppliers to think about minimising negative impacts and maximising positive outcomes through their own activities and supply chains.

Efficiency and reduction of material, resource, and energy use within the supply chain is a direct result of reducing Scope 3 emissions. So consolidation and efficiency of supply chains is essential.

Every single supplier to the University is invited to sign up to the portal, and by collaborating with suppliers, customers, and other companies in the value chain, we are positively influencing supplier relationships and aligning our sustainability goals.

What efforts does the University make towards purchasing sustainable food? 

The University is a member of purchasing organisation, TUCO (The University Caterers Organisation Limited). TUCO establishes framework agreements with sustainability at their heart which we then use to procure most of our food and drink. Campus Food and Drink are currently reviewing and updating their sustainability policy to identify improved procurement strategies and will set targets and timelines, and establish means for evaluating progress.

What can staff do to help procurement be more sustainable? 

I would say the most important thing that staff can do is to question whether they really need what they’re purchasing. The University generates a lot of waste, which is often a result of buying too much. Wherever possible, staff should use the contracts and agreements that Procurement have put in place, as sustainability factors will have been considered when they were established. As a Department, we will continue to provide guidance to staff involved in purchasing to help them make more sustainable purchasing decisions, and together we can create a more sustainable future.

Find out more about procurement at the University and see our tips to buying responsibly here.