The Brits vs. the Yanks: Green Procurement and Supply Chain Practices in Government

Much talk in Federal procurement of late in the US has revolved around getting more for every public dollar spent (and keeping track of where all the spending is going). In the UK, it appears from this side of the pond that the discussion has been even more direct and focused on reducing overall expenditures -- call it supplier austerity programs, if you will. Yet both the US and UK governments have been keen to embrace what's often known in the private sector as corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, including green purchasing, as a part of their agendas. A recent column that I came across suggests some of the similarities and differences in how each centralized government is tackling the green purchasing and supply chain issue by looking at similar initiatives underway on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US, consider the recent creation of an effort by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the US General Services Administration labeled the GreenGov Supply Chain Partnership. According to the above-linked article, "the primary goal of this voluntary collaboration between the federal government and its suppliers to enhance the federal governments compliance with Executive Order 13514 by creating frameworks for a greener, more efficient supply chain ... The EO goes beyond just focusing on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions though, encouraging suppliers and vendors to take a proactive approach to environmental management (even going so far as encouraging voluntary certification to standards such as ISO 14001)."

The UK, however, appears to be embracing an approach compels certain practices, rather than encouraging them. Specifically, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently published a working document that represents a "sweeping program" which will establish "government buying standards" similar to initiatives already underway across the British government in other areas. Already, "many U.K. agencies are now scoring suppliers and giving them points (as much as a 10% edge) for enhanced green practices as part of the tender process."

I agree with the authors that the UK is taking a more aggressive stance, and that while the US model appears "on the surface appears collaborative and designed to create a robust procurement process," it will likely amount to a "carrot"-based model without enough teeth to affect rapid purchasing change. Granted, one could argue that green and CSR should take a back-row seat to general Federal cost reduction through better overall procurement, but it's not like the US government is making headlines with effective programs that are saving taxpayers billions. At the end of the day, perhaps that in addition to rewriting and greatly simplifying the Federal tax code, we should also simplify the FAR (Federal Acquisition Rules) to prioritize a total cost approach that balances true total cost savings with value, the latter inclusive of CSR and green initiatives.

Jason Busch

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