Whilst declaring a climate emergency sounds significant, so far, there's limited evidence that it's making a big difference. Most organisations that have declared such an emergency haven't made the significant steps to decarbonise you'd hope they would do and haven't actually responded to the crisis facing our planet.
But, that's not to say this isn't an opportunity for procurement teams and the wider supply chain to respond in a positive way. By working together, we can move the needle on sustainability, environmental impact and the social impact of climate change.
Before I dive into what actions procurement teams can take, it's worth considering what declaring a climate emergency actually means.
There's no single definition of what an organisation should do if they declare an emergency. There's some good guidance <u>here</u><u> </u>from Rob Hopkins (https://twitter.com/robintransition), but generally a climate emergency declaration has become a simple political statement. In my view, you'll struggle to find a comprehensive strategy or detailed plans behind most statements.
To respond to an emergency of this nature organisations need to fundamentally change their approach and radically review and transform how they measure performance, structure their organisation and decision making, and prioritise their organisation's efforts.
Four key steps we can take to respond to a climate emergency
I want to focus in this blog on government and public sector organisations and how the actions of procurement teams can positively support the move in direction declaring a climate emergency should bring. That's not to say private sector organisations don't need to respond in a similar way, but it's probably true to say that it's the public sector that has made the most noise about this emergency.
So, where do we begin in responding to the declaration of an emergency.
The first step has to be procurement teams responding at a operational level through how they engage and interact with the market. It's an easy step to make, changing the basic building blocks of a procurement function and amending assessment documents, evaluation weightings and minimum standards on contracts to establish ways to measure and assure whole-contract impact of services procured. A small change of simply mandating an environmental question in every tender could be all it takes to start the ball rolling.
The second step in the process will be to roll these changes into category and supplier management. Now more often than not category management activities will be focused around performance and outcomes measurement, and those measures are normally are directly related to what was bought in the first place. As an example, if you've procured care services, your performance measures are likely to align to the quality or responsiveness of that service. However, in a climate emergency, we must consider the overall cost to the environment of services, and ensure supplier management provides a continued focus on the environment long after the contract has been awarded. Change can be as simple and engaging suppliers. Working together should the first step in the process, not the last once you've already decided what you're going to do.
Thirdly, with the immediate procurement and supplier engagement handled under step one and two, we need to consider a long term pipeline, particularly contract renewals, frameworks and procuring of services that are more cyclical in nature. I pick these up first under step three because these will be planned, you should have have an established market within which you can engage and seek input and you should also have a existing supply chain which, hopefully, is already working collaboratively with you to improve services year on year.
We need to talk for this to work! I've had the chance to work with a number of suppliers who deliver for organisations who've declared a climate emergency and I find it surprising and disappointing that it hasn't filtered down to the way those suppliers are engaged, managed and supported to improve how they perform and decarbonise. The way these contracts come to market has to change to.
We have to rethink how we set specifications and adjust them to respond to the emergency. As a procurement professional we need to revisit existing specifications, revise category strategies to minimise impact (e.g. by reducing travel through regional lotting strategies) and ensure that your supply chain is managing it's own supply chain correctly. How will tier 1's pass this through your new found environmental conscious to the supply chain e.g. have they got suitable measures in place to make sure suppliers are working to a higher standard throughout the supply chain.
The final step in this simplified response it to consider your longer pipeline and one-off buying activities. Major buying decisions are usually planned years in advanced, so you can be open with the market and get the market to come back to you with how they could reduce carbon and environmental impact to inform your specification. Often suppliers are engaged too late in the procurement cycle to genuinely influence and bring innovation to your contract. Use the climate emergency to change this approach!
An additional action for senior leaders
There may be push back from some who will say that as a public body, you don't have capacity to deliver this. This is where there has to be push back and a positive response from senior procurement leaders.
We need to change the way teams are structured to respond and improve the resources they have access to. We can't rely on traditional mechanisms of marking essays and evaluating a pricing model. We need new models to evaluate environmental impact and new resources in our procurement teams to we prove and assure the benefits long-term. So, I encourage procurement leaders to consider the resources they need to evaluate the social and environmental sustainability of their buying decisions and ensure they're securing the best solution for the planet, not just this year's budget.
With all that in mind, it seems like there's a hell of a lot to do. There are short and long term actions.
But, overall, we need more transparency and more engagement to respond together to reduce whole-contract impact.
This is what a climate emergency needs; a fundamental shift to respond to an emergency. It's not a gradual change, it's a rapid, radical adjustment to deal with an impending threat. That's why procurement plays such an important role, it has the key role in shaping sustainable contracts and services across public organisations.
Now, as bidders, we also need to respond. We need to consider how our services will radically change and need to engage early enough to deliver a better service with a better whole-contract environmental impact. We need to take new propositions to procurement teams and our clients, and we need to be willing to adapt to changing requirements and an increased pace of change too.
This really does act as a call to arms for both bids and procurement. If organisations are going to adapt we need to fundamentally change how we respond as a market. The pressure is on us to deliver on what will be one of the defining policy changes in our lifetime.
Climate politics is characterised by short bursts of activism heading towards short-term and often slightly arbitrary deadlines. We’ve been told again and again that the time is now, or at least within a few years, or the planet gets it. It’s understandable in some ways. Yet the nature of the climate fight is that it’s one that will be with us for the long term, and so our activism has to be too. This is partly because we’ve left it so long that we have to deal with the warming we’ve already cooked up for ourselves as well as radical action to avoid more, but it’s also partly the nature of the beast.