Collaborating for a More Sustainable Supply Chain in Public Procurement

This post, written by Tim Laseter and Nancy Gillis, originally appeared on Public Spend Forum

Government and private industry can work together to create more sustainable supply chains. That’s the foundational belief of a General Services Administration (GSA) initiative called the Sustainable Supply Chain Community of Practice. It’s a community in which key stakeholders share insights and information on how to create greener supply chains while reducing inefficiencies and risk. Here’s a report on the progress to date.

On October 5, 2009, President Obama signed an executive order entitled “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.” Rather than debating the contentious issue of climate change, the policy statement made greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions a priority for the government and tasked the General Services Administration (GSA), the government’s procurement agency, to reduce the GHGs from the federal supply chain. On the surface, the order appeared to fall in a long line of Executive Orders, issued under different administrations, that addresses sustainability primarily through an environ- mental lens. Clearly, environmental protection is a societal good and accordingly, the government should lead the way.

The surprising result from implementing the order, however, has been the realization that businesses have found a strong economic case for sustainability beyond merely responding to environmental mandates. Increasingly, emphasis on sustainable supply chains, ones that reduce resource-related inefficiencies and risks, are seen as a competitive necessity. It is this awareness that is driving leading businesses—from Coca Cola to Johnson Controls to Dell and Alcoa—to employ sustainable supply chain practices. Accordingly, GSA announced in March 2012 at a Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) White House event the launch of a Sustainable Supply Chain Community of Practice. The goal of the initiative: to provide federal agencies and their small business suppliers an avenue to learn from companies that have some of the most advanced supply chains in the world.

Sustainability represents an ongoing journey rather than a destination—even among global leaders. And at this early stage for the federal government, we can only explain the origins and the emerging sketch of the future vision. But, by drawing upon the experiences of public and private organizations the world over, we hope to demonstrate the value of the path now taken.

Sustainability Through an Environmental Lens

Environmental sustainability has been a goal of administrations from both sides of the aisle. While Bill Clinton first used the term “Greening the Government” in his 1993 Executive Order, the origins of the Council on Environmental Quality trace back to 1969 and the administration of Richard Nixon, who then went on to establish the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970—the same year as the first “Earth Day.”

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