Frequently Asked Questions

Go here for Frequently Asked Questions about Membership.

What is the purpose of the Council’s programs?

The Sustainable Purchasing Council’s programs will enable institutional purchasers – including government agencies, universities, schools, financial institutions and corporations – to begin to align the demand signals of their purchasing to consistently signal how the supplier market can provide more sustainable products and services.

An institutional procurement-focused sustainability initiative has the potential to scale tremendously; institutional purchasing accounts for $10 trillion annually in the U.S. alone and can transform the sustainability of all goods and services. As such, the Council’s range of programs empowers institutional purchasers to:

  1. efficiently identify the social and environmental impacts within their supply chain,
  2. prioritize action on those impacts using expert insights and sound science,
  3. execute cost-effective actions that credibly mitigate their priority impacts, and
  4. benchmark their performance over time and against peers using common,
  5. outcome-based metrics.

How will the Council’s programs benefit institutions?

The Council’s work will leverage existing credible and impactful guidance, certifications, standards and best practices developed by advocacy groups, government agencies, associations, consultancies and standards organizations in an effort to accelerate the market’s adoption of the best available and most impactful options. This will be accomplished by delivering these resources to procurement professionals within a program framework that has organization-wide spend management and procurement processes as the central focus.

In doing this, the Council’s programs will help to alleviate the costs and confusion impeding institutions’ present sustainable purchasing initiatives. There is currently little information on which existing programs, guidance, and certifications to trust. Additionally, there is little guidance on how to measure the extent to which sustainable purchasing actions are helping institutions make progress toward their sustainability goals. SPLC’s programs take the burden off institutions having to figure this out in isolation and provide a cost-effective way to aide their staff and suppliers in collective accomplishing their sustainable purchasing goals.

Further, the existence of an expert-informed, consensus-driven sustainable purchasing program will embolden various stakeholder constituents (customers, citizens, investors, employees) to demand comprehensive sustainable purchasing initiatives from the institutions with which they associate and patronize.

How does the Council define ‘sustainable?’

The Council defines sustainable as a world where the production, distribution, use and disposal of goods and services enhance the long-term health and vitality of society, economies and the planet. The Council supports and recognizes that leadership in sustainable purchasing can accelerate the transition to an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable future.

More specifically, sustainability is defined within environmental, social, and economic parameters. This is discussed further in the Council’s Principles for Leadership in Sustainable Purchasing.

How does the Council define 'leadership?'

The Council believes that leadership should be defined in terms of performance outcomes wherever possible. Performance-based measures encourage innovation to achieve results while allowing institutions the flexibility to achieve levels of performance using methods best suited to their particular needs and challenges.

The Council also recognizes that there are important processes (e.g. spend analysis, impact assessment, strategic planning) that must to be performed to understand which performance targets will be most relevant and impactful for a particular institution based on their current spend patters and significant impacts.

Will the Council “pick winners” for reference with respect to certification labels and standards?'

This is not the intention of the Council’s programmatic work. Part of the Council’s efforts will be to understand and communicate the extent to which various certifications and standards address the most significant impacts of the products or services they evaluate. This will provide an effective way to help purchasers understand which certifications are best suited for a particular institution’s strategic goals. Depending on the depth and brevity with which a certification or standard addresses the significant impacts of a product or service, the attributed points within the Council’s rating system may vary.

Will the Council produce globally applicable guidance?

Yes, the Council takes a global perspective in the development of its work and has engaged a membership and partnership audience both within and outside the United States and North America. The Council is represented in a variety of global initiatives to aide in its work. These initiatives include involvement in UNEP’s Sustainable Public Procurement Initiative (SPPI), a partnership with ICLEI on the basis of its EU Procura+ program, and a liaison role on the ISO/PC 277 Committee. Additionally, the UK-based CIPS Sustainability Index and the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia are members of the Council’s Founders Circle. This involvement, in addition to a growing base of inter- and multi-national organizations joining as members of the Council, will ensure that exploration and consideration of guidance, certifications and standards from outside the United States are made.

Will the Council engage existing standard, certification assessment tool or guidance developers in its program development processes?

Yes. The Council’s intention is to use its programs as a platform to promote the most credible and impactful guidance that is currently available. The Council’s potential reach is substantial; institutional purchasing accounts for more than $10 trillion of the annual U.S. GDP. It is therefore paramount to both the Council and the existing standard, certification assessment tool and guidance audience that this collaboration occur.

Will the Council develop a rating system for sustainable products?

No. The Council’s programs will assess leadership in sustainable purchasing as a progression toward meeting sustainability goals. The Council’s rating system will neither evaluate individual products or services, nor their providers against criteria within labels, standards or guidance.

The Council will, however, explore various purchasing categories that are common to institutional spending (e.g. electricity, transportation and fuels, construction and renovation activities, IT hardware and services) and provide information and evaluation of the available certifications, standards, guidance and best practices in terms of credibility and impact.

Which measurement concepts will the Council include in its programs?

Yes. The Council encourages the inclusion of all concepts that help the procurement community to measure, understand and address the relevant impacts of their goods and services purchasing. This includes, but is not limited to, natural capital, ecosystem services, externalized costs, total cost of ownership (TCO), and social return on investment.

Will the Council provide guidance related to existing green labels?

Yes, the Council will offer guidance that helps institutional purchasers understand the distinctions among various green labels, in terms of the impacts each label addresses.

Will the Council address supplier diversity in its programs?

Yes. The Council recognizes leaders in the supplier diversity community such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council (CAMSC), the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN), the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), among others in their efforts to define and accelerate leadership in diversity spending. The Council seeks the advice of these and other organizations on how to best support and advance the supplier diversity movement.

The Council is well positioned to support diverse suppliers’ preparation efforts to meet the sustainability needs of purchasers. As reflected in the Launch Event Webcast, a number of the Council’s founding members recognize that providing technical and educational assistance to diverse suppliers is essential to ensuring that those suppliers are prepared to compete and thrive as the sustainability movement evolves. The Council intends to meet these needs by providing relevant education for purchasers and diverse suppliers alike.

Finally, many diverse suppliers are already prepared to offer products and services demonstrating cutting edge innovations in sustainability. The Council can be a forum where these suppliers may interface with purchasing institutions seeking out diverse suppliers.

How will the Council’s guidance be developed?

The Council has developed a robust multi-stakeholder-based process for the development of its guidance. This includes a consensus-based process for the development of the Council’s rating system, outlined in its Operating Policies and Procedures. The Council will use this multi-stakeholder process to assess and select the best guidance available today, and will put out a call for new guidance to be developed where guidance is found to be lacking.

How does the Council ensure a balance of interests and considerations throughout the development of its programs?

The SPLC is a non-profit organization governed by a Board of Directors, operating under the Council’s Bylaws. The Board of Directors has final control over all program decisions. Program development is administered through a Technical Advisory Committee, charged with maintaining the integrity of all SPLC programs; the TAC must also meet balance requirements outlined in its Operating Policies and Procedures.

Will the Council’s programs accommodate and allow for operation in accordance with U.S. Federal procurement laws and requirements?

The Council considers governmental purchasing to be one of the most significant and potentially influential leverage points in the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is critical that the Council’s guidance integrate with existing Federal procurement laws and requirements. The Council intends to ensure that no guidance conflicts with U.S. Federal procurement laws and requirements, though the Council’s leadership definitions may go above and beyond the rigor and impact scope of U.S. Federal procurement laws and requirements. The U.S. General Services Administration is aware of and has committed to understanding and using the Council’s programs.

How does the Council’s work differ from other related initiatives, such as The Sustainability Consortium?

The Council views the work of The Sustainability Consortium as complimentary to its efforts.

Most notably, The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) focuses on the sustainability performance of consumer products (goods with attributes), whereas the Council focuses on the sustainability performance of an institution’s overall purchasing (spending decisions with consequent impacts). As such, the Council will provide organizations with guidance on a number of areas not covered by TSC, including spend analysis and prioritization, procurement of services and non-consumer products, and procurement processes and best practices. Additionally, the Council will provide a rating system for recognizing institution’s that achieve outstanding performance in sustainable purchasing, and a credentialing program for procurement and supplier professionals that demonstrate mastery of sustainable purchasing knowledge and skills.

The Council’s work is also complimentary to a variety of other organizations, with which it has formed Strategic Partnerships. The Council is actively growing its strategic partner base to further align and augment each other’s work.