TAC Tackles High-level Guidance Development Questions

The Council is currently working with more than 90 volunteers across nine program committees to develop the Guidance for Leadership in Sustainable Purchasing v1.0, opening for pilot in January 2015. The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), the volunteer group overseeing the development of all work associated with the Guidance have had several substantive conversations about some key high-level questions.  Here’s a report-out on those discussions:

What is the role of certifications and standards in SPLC’s Guidance?

The Council recognizes the important role that certifications and standards have played–and will continue to play–in supporting institutional leadership in sustainable purchasing. At their best, sustainability-oriented labels, standards, and certifications translate expert knowledge about the most significant impacts associated with a particular product category–and about best practices that meaningfully address those impacts–into a consistent, practical framework for decision-making. SPLC seeks to build upon the decades of valuable work that stakeholders have invested in the creation of such high quality standards and certifications by integrating them into our Guidance v1.0 and, ultimately, into our Rating System for Leadership in Sustainable Purchasing.

As a first step toward such integration, in developing the Council’s Guidance v1.0, the Technical Advisory Groups (TAG’s) seek to understand and communicate the extent to which various certifications and product labels evaluate and measure the most significant environmental, social, and economic impacts of relevant products or services. Inclusion of this information into the Guidance will allow purchasers to align the certifications they specify with their strategic sustainability goals.

Looking forward, the Council’s Rating System will value any action based on its ability to address the most significant environmental, social, and economic impacts associated with a particular purchasing category. This includes, but is not limited to, the use of certifications or standards (e.g., the use a particular certification or label for a certain percentage of overall spend within a category). Depending on the extent to which a particular action addresses the significant impacts of a product or service, the  points attributed within the Council’s rating system may vary. To this extent, development of the Rating System is expected to involve identifying certain certifications, standards, or labels as more likely to advance leadership in sustainable purchasing within a particular category.

For the moment, the TAC has recommended that, as TAGs begin exploring various certifications and standards to understand the extent to which certifications and standards address relevant impacts, they should use the ISEAL Credibility Principles and the U.S. EPA Draft Guidances for Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels as an initial filter for considering inclusion of a certification or standard in the Guidance. This is not meant to create a “pass/fail” threshold for certifications and standards, but rather to provide a basis for informed conversations about which programs might be included in a “short list” of credible guidance within a particular category.

How should purchasers balance product performance and improved environmental, social, or economic (ESE) attributes?

From a Council perspective, leadership organizations should seek to avoid or minimize unnecessary compromises. Leadership organizations ask the marketplace to deliver innovations that offer functional performance and environmental stewardship and social responsibility and cost parity. Leaders in sustainable purchasing are those organizations that request, of their suppliers, that functional performance not come at the expense of environmental damage, community costs, or worker safety… and, likewise, that advances in environmental or social performance not come at the expense of functional performance or total cost of ownership.

Where compromises are unavoidable, based on currently available products and technologies, it is appropriate for an organization to choose solutions based on its own values and primary needs. If there is no solution currently available that can meet both technical performance requirements and reduce relevant ESE impacts, then some compromise will be required. In such cases, it is up to the individual organization to determine, based on its own priorities, what compromise is appropriate. The Council would, however, expect that a leadership organization put pressure on the supplier to demonstrate an attempt to innovate in the direction that meaningfully and transparently reduces the relevant ESE impacts of the particular product or service.

The TAC has recommended that TAGs focus on the following questions related to this balance:

  • How should a purchaser encourage a supplier to innovate if the supplier were up to the challenge? What should they ask of the supplier? What questions are relevant?
  • In cases where products with improved environmental attributes exist, what are some strategies that purchasers can use to decide if a product is right for them? What factors might be important to them, or might they want to consider?

How will SPLC’s Guidance avoid creating inequities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs)?

A subset of the TAC is focused on identifying the following:

  • the core areas where inequities are likely to exist within the Council’s Guidance
  • examples of how specific organizations have addressed the issue (as a purchaser, label provider, etc.)
  • recommendations for how the Council can provide tools and solutions tailored for small suppliers and service providers as part of its broader program delivery
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