Smarter sustainable procurement

Helen Burge headshot

Helen Burge, deputy COO, The Priory Learning Trust, discusses how you can enhance your school’s green credentials and put sustainability front and centre of the procurement process

As school business professionals we are focused on school resource management and how our procurement can obtain value for money by considering the three Es’ – efficiency, effectiveness and economy – but, when it comes to sustainable procurement, we need to think of the three E’s plus the principles of environmental and social.

For some schools the sustainability aspect of procurement is already a given; they are buying green energy, procure from companies which have a low environmental impact, don’t use single use plastic, have their urinals on a timer and have pigs or goats consuming their kitchen’s organic food waste. But that isn’t the reality for a lot of schools. What if your school has a bit of a culture shift to make towards being sustainable in its procurement practices and yet there is little or no appetite to make the changes due to blockages? 

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” Robert Swan

Who are the blockers? If you completed a stakeholder map of low/ high influence of outcome and low/high support for your efforts, where would people sit? Who is the natural champion of sustainable procurement in addition to you as SBP? How can you activate them to do more communicating about the green agenda? Who has high influence and low support? How do you manage them?

“We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change – and it has to start today.” Greta Thunberg

It would help to bring sustainability up your setting’s agenda by including on the strategic plan and within your policies. Consider your school’s approach to sustainability and its targets to reduce energy consumption, waste or opt for greener suppliers. When you next review your policies, consider how sustainability can be threaded through them. It’s probably already mentioned in curriculum policies, but what about your procurement or finance policies? Do you have a sustainability policy?

“There is no such thing as ‘away’; when we throw anything away it must go somewhere.” Anne Leonard

We know that small changes in our habits can have an impact on reducing waste – for example, the removal of single use plastic bags in our supermarkets, or choosing to refill a water bottle rather than buy another bottle. By considering procurement as a process which starts with the idea that something is needed, and ends when we pay for its disposal, we can truly consider the sustainability of the school resources we manage.

It’s unlikely that on your (online!) procurement requisition form you have a line about where, when, how and at what cost the school resource will be disposed of at the end of its life; however, considering the hierarchy of waste (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle) – especially the first three steps, which take place before additional purchases are made – could reduce your waste costs and will reduce the amount going to landfill. For example:

Refuse – minimise wasteAvoid single used plasticEncourage catering contractors to stop using single use plastic.Install water fountains for students and staff to fill their reusable water bottles.
Unnecessary packaging Avoid using suppliers with high use of packaging.
Reduce – dependency on harmful, wasteful and non-recyclable productsPaper consumptionIf you must print, print double-sided.Don’t glue work sheets into work books.Limit laminatingAsk yourself, ‘Does this sheet of paper need to exist on this planet long after I don’t?’!
Reuse – rebalance our throw away culturePolly pockets, plastic wallets, punched pocketsIf you need plastic wallets, can you empty ones holding content no longer required?School resource amnestyBefore placing next year’s stationery order, organise a clearing of cupboards of unwanted items into a central area, then reallocate.

A school resource amnesty is a real eye-opener as to how often purchases are made out of habit rather than necessity. To avoid this, going forward, you could consider a centralised stationery cupboard. This will take time to set up successfully, and could create other issues (for example, no-one informing the office when the last box of photocopier paper is opened…) but, with practice, it could work. The next step would be a cross-curricular collaborative purchasing exercise.

Once you’ve established that a purchase definitely is required, you’ll need to consider the supplier’s green credentials. You could create a list of eco-friendly suppliers – based on your own prerequisites – which could be encompass their packaging, locality, fair trade, bee-friendliness and recycled product range. Also the consider recycling opportunities they offer, or their community engagement and social benefits, as well as price and ability to deliver on time – in an electric vehicle, not a dinosaur-juice powered one! Can you feedback to suppliers to encourage them to change their practices, for example, to reduce the number of deliveries, or switch to e-invoices. Could you learn from their sustainability practices?

Having the conversation, learning and then implementing change is key, as everything needs to change – and it has to start today!

To learn more about how to put sustainability on the SBP agenda, join us at EdExec LIVE 2021 where Helen will be delivering a seminar on this topic. Email [email protected] for discounted tickets.

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