From Materials to Practices: Sustainable Purchasing Groundswell At The SPLC Summit 2019

June 13, 2019 David McClintock


Portland has a reputation as a sort of sustainability mecca, so it was certainly an apt site for the SPLC’s annual Summit. Now in our sixth year supporting the SPLC, it did not disappoint: This was the strongest and the most diverse gathering of committed and capable practitioners we’ve ever seen in North America — it felt like a real groundswell of action on sustainable purchasing!

Strong Focus on Supplier Practices, and Private Sector

My first observation this year was a well-balanced audience. Historically, SPLC has been strongly represented and attended by public sector entities (cities, counties, schools, utilities, etc.). But this year it reached a turning point: There was an even split of private sector companies and public sector entities. It’s very promising to see this broadening influence and impact. Additionally, we’ve seen a continued shift and expansion of focus from a historic emphasis on materials and environmental criteria, e.g. making better choices on sustainable materials and products purchased, to a more holistic view that emphasizes the sustainability practices of suppliers. This year at SPLC, the mix seemed just right.

Private and Public Sectors: Common Ground in Sustainability Ratings

The two perspectives were on display in the Tuesday morning panel session on “Leveraging Supplier Sustainability Ratings Within Public Sector & Private Sector Purchasing.” This session brought together Kim Kipin-McDonald, Head of Sustainable Development North America at Covestro, and Stephanie Lopez, Special Programs Manager at the University of California Procurement Services, to compare and contrast how they’re leveraging sustainability ratings to drive their programs.


Ms. Lopez talked about the challenges the university was facing as a decentralized organization in shifting the focus of its program from “buying responsible products” to “selecting responsible suppliers.” Several individual campuses, who were piloting their own assessment programs, did not have the critical mass of resources to create a single indicator, comparable across categories. Ratings provided the common ground. Later in the day, University of California CPO Bill Cooper – who championed the EcoVadis ratings program at the UC – brought into sharper focus the Public Sector CPO Perspective on “How Sustainable Procurement Adds Value,” in a panel with two public sector CPO peers from the State of Minnesota, the City of Portland, and State of California. Read more in this Guidebook on Integrating Ratings into Sustainable Public Procurement.

Covestro’s goals, meanwhile, center around growth and differentiation. As a chemical and plastics producer, the company is focused on making the most reusable materials possible, and at the same time seeking to drive sustainable supplier practices. Thus Covestro’s participation in a joint initiative of chemical companies,Together for Sustainability, is a great way to find common ground with 23 other chemical companies using a standard rating platform.

This session wrapped up with a healthy debate on how to manage plastics. While the University of California considers banning single use packaging, a decision to do so will not be immediate, and nor will it include all plastics. Thus companies like Covestro remain at the center of the challenge to find materials that maximize recovery, reuse and re-formulation to minimize footprint.

Transparency and Confidentiality Coexist

Trading partners are cautious when it comes to transparency, whether in private or public tenders, and may be reticent to provide policy or process documents required for a thorough CSR assessment. This may lead to challenges. As an organization who is subject to laws requiring mandatory public disclosure of all information provided in public procurement bids, the University of California found dealing with such vendor-partners was an especially acute issue. In the end, sustainability ratings provided an ideal solution: Vendors provide documents to EcoVadis, where they remain confidential, and only the rating and scorecard are provided for the assessment request (e.g. for a tender).

Integrating Sustainability Criteria Into Procurement

The Innovation Accelerator Roundtables addressed the question of how to integrate supplier sustainability performance criteria into procurement processes.

Participants agreed that one of the best ways to adopt sustainability criteria into buyer decisions is to integrate the data directly to the existing purchasing/supplier management tools: Learn more about how EcoVadis’ API can connect ratings and scorecards to your purchasing software in this briefing.

HP and Radical Transparency

On Tuesday evening, we joined HP Inc. in hosting a reception with a theme of radical transparency and circularity. HP revealed its EcoVadis scorecard to the audience, showing impressive, industry-leading scores across all themes. Kudos for this bold move, which is harder than it sounds for such a big brand. It effectively brought  attention to HP’s call to action for buying organizations to embrace and prioritize sustainability criteria in procurement decisions. We also heard some inspiring examples of how the multinational is leading in environmental and social engagement, and setting the pace on circularity through structured programs for recapture and reformulation/re-use of materials and components in their printing products.

The Business Case For Investing in Sustainable Purchasing: All Fun & Games?

This must have been apt inspiration for many attendees who are challenged to achieve this kind of commitment in their own companies: The next day the session on “Making the case for Investment in Sustainable Purchasing” was filled with eager participants. This session covered the eight proven strategies for Making the Case for Investment in Sustainable Purchasing a new practical guide by SPLC, based on research with eight practitioners published with support from EcoVadis). Celia Landesberg, Enterprise Executive at EcoVadis, recently recognized by Women in Global Sourcing, joined SPLC’s new interim CEO Sarah O’Brien and Judy Panayos, Senior Director of Sustainability and Supply Management at Sodexo, who brought a fun “gamification” twist: Ms. Panayos introduced and led “Leadership Approval – the GAME“, newly created role-playing game. We dealt ourselves “Role” cards (Engineer, CSR leader, Operations, etc.), rolled the dice and pulled “Situation cards” to gain points, and brought the business case building challenge to life!

Recognizing Excellence

To cap things off, the SPLC annual awards recognized some excellent work. We were thrilled to see Air Liquide won the Purchaser Leadership: Overall Program category in the SPLC Case Study Awards 2019! In a “sustainability power-move” the Air Liquide team avoided three tons of carbon emissions from air transportation by giving their acceptance speech virtually – check it out here:

Air Liquide Shui SPLC Awards Speech 2019

All in all, the SPLC’s annual summit offered a wealth of knowledge and inspiration for all of its 500 attendees: Purchasing professionals, suppliers and NGO experts alike. While the challenges in implementing sustainable procurement programs differ between the private and public sectors, they can both benefit from many of the same tools and solutions, such as sustainability ratings, and can learn from one another. An understanding that this is the case and an open dialogue in the whole procurement community is a vital step toward greater transparency in global supply chains and the only way to drive change.

If you’re looking for ways to address the challenges you’re facing on your sustainability journey — or would like to learn more about the sustainability ratings platform — let us know. We’d be happy to help.

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