Going green with sustainable procurement

The phrase ‘sustainable procurement’ is an all-encompassing term that may not be entirely clear to the average public sector or even private sector worker. It has been climbing the agenda in IT procurement, growing in importance in parallel with the environmental agenda. Only last month Ken Livingstone released a report on responsible procurement calling on London authorities to ensure their procurement processes are ‘socially’ and ‘environmentally’ responsible. As you would imagine, the latter part of this advice links directly to the complex process of conducting sustainable procurement – especially in the IT arena.
As the biggest purchaser of IT equipment in the UK, the government is starting to look at how it can make procurement processes greener. As such the CIO Council is planning a strategy that will encourage the adoption of greener practice in the public sector. Indeed Gillian Merron highlighted this shift at the 4th Ministerial eGovernment conference in Portugal last year:
“In the UK the government is the biggest purchaser of IT. The Department of Work and Pensions has one of the biggest IT estates in Europe. I have asked the Chief Information Officers Council to work in partnership with the UK technology industry to look at how we can make our IT more sustainable.”

What is it?
There is no single definition of sustainable procurement but in its simplest terms it is the ability to purchase products and equipment, usually on a large scale, without compromising resources for future generations.
Producing IT equipment and running IT systems requires the consumption of multiple resources over an extended period of time. In a sustainable procurement process there must be recognition of the often complex and dynamic supply chain, with efforts made at all points to improve practice. There are also numerous ways to reduce the environmental impact of the IT lifecycle - many of which could be incorporated into the current procurement process.  Working within the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) buying guidelines, public sector CIOs and IT managers should strive to consider green processes when buying and implementing IT.
In the public sector, working in tandem with OGC buying guidelines, CIOs should consider suppliers who will not only provide value for money, but also demonstrate good environmental practice. There are various things that a CIO might look for when scrutinising a supplier’s environmental credibility. For instance, when buying PCs the CIO can ensure that they are EPEAT (Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool) or Energy Star rated, thereby ensuring that they are among the most energy efficient products available. The CIO might also seek out organisations that comply with voluntary environmental standards: The International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO) 14000 series requires that a continuous improvement cycle is in place regarding environmental performance. Similarly EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) is an EU voluntary initiative that also recognises those organisations that go beyond minimum legal compliance and continuously improve their environmental performance. Such standards help the CIO implement an environmentally friendly procurement process.
Recognising the entire lifecycle of IT equipment and commiting to sound environmental practice throughout is one of the main facets of sustainable procurement. It is equally important to pass on the message of sustainibility to the staff who will be using the equipment. Responsibility doesn’t solely rest with suppliers.
Environmental awareness
The importance of good environmental practice when using IT during this phase cannot be underestimated. Similar to the suppliers, CIOs can ensure their staff adopt practices that guide environmentally friendly work habits. Small things like setting printer defaults to low quality and double sided print, or making sure staff turn off their desktops at the end of the day can make a big difference, especially when we consider their cumlitative costs. The implementation and operation of an IT system can have a big impact on energy consumption. Whether the system is in-house or outsourced, actions to improve energy efficiency should be key.
In September 2005 the National Audit Office released a report on sustainable procurement that identified a gap between commitment and implementation. It highlighted a number of barriers including lack of leadership, lack of integration, decentralisation, ignorance and a difficulty in balancing cost with sustainability. Whilst these are testing barriers, much is riding on the public sector overcoming the challenges.
Rising CO2 emissions are fuelling climate change. However, as recently highlighted in Intellect’s report ”High-Tech: Low Carbon” using new technology in the right way can help reduce emissions and combat climate change. The government and the public sector must embrace the technologies and systems that are reducing IT’s energy consumption - sustainable procurement can act as the roadmap in realising this change.

Future conclusions
With CIOs increasingly embracing sustainable procurement the knock on effects could be beneficial for all departments. If the idea of environmental sustainability spreads from procurement processes into the general culture of government and the public sector, many would benefit. 

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