While there are positive shifts happening around sustainable consumption and procurement in Australia, there is still a lot of work to be done before it is business as usual, research by Orbis Environmental director Anna Scott has found.
Ms Scott presented the research at a recent event, Collaborate Innovate Celebrate, hosted by Good Environmental Choice Australia at Lendlease’s Sydney headquarters.
The study, led by GECA, included interviews with 130 people including business leaders and researchers around the major challenges, barriers, drivers and problems relating to sustainable procurement.
Ms Scott told attendees that sustainable procurement and consumption had moved a long way since the early 1990s.
Current trends include concepts like the circular economy and collaborative consumption.
Ms Scott said the collaborative consumption model focused on function or outcome rather than consumption of products. It can be expressed by the phrase, “I don’t need a drill. I need a hole in the wall,” she said.
The focus is also shifting from a reactive or negative approach of looking for “less bad” options to a more pro-active or positive “more good”.
The research showed there is recognition that the “people element” is crucial in encouraging customer buy-in. Currently, people generally “don’t shop with their values”, she said.
The research revealed three dominant approaches to sustainability. A minority of early adopters are basing their process on looking at the end of life of their products and making sustainability a core part how they do business; and the mid-range are building trust over the long term through approaches including external certification or partnerships with NGOs.
The majority of respondents, Ms Scott said, have a motivation that is very reactionary and defensive, involving risk management and the need to prove a business case for sustainability.
Some of the ways Ms Scott said businesses could move forward included taking a systems approach, simplification of tools, greater collaboration, harmonising various schemes, making sustainability meaningful, using the power of design and engaging more with people.
Other speakers at the event included GECA chief executive Kate Harris, who outlined the big picture on sustainability and navigating product claims, and also the ways sustainable products and organisations like GECA could contribute to achieving several of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically, she said, GECA could assist with achieving the specific SDGs of responsible consumption, sustainable cities and communities, and innovation and infrastructure.
It is important to think strategically to contribute to these UNEP SDGs through cooperation and collaboration, Ms Harris said.
Lendlease site engineer Charles Prior gave a presentation on some of the initiatives the company has been undertaking around procurement of sustainable cleaning products and site furnishings. He also spoke about the use of ecolabels in construction delivery.
Because builders aren’t experts in sustainability, they rely on third party organisations to verify environmental claims made by suppliers, he said.
Mr Prior said there were two main ways the company’s projects teams come across ecolabels. The first is when a client wants a building rating such as Green Star, LEED, Living Building Challenge or WELL. The second is through the company’s own site sustainability standards, which set out minimum requirements for products such as paints, adhesives/sealants, timber, paper, appliances, site furniture and cleaning chemicals.
Jean Louis Haie, Planet Procurement director and chair of the Australian Mirror Committee on ISO 20400 Sustainable Procurement, explained the workings of the new standard, which is expected to be released in early 2017.
The guidance standard on sustainable procurement will explain what sustainable procurement is, and its scope and principles. It will also explain the impact of integrating sustainability into the procurement process, and how to go about it. It is structured into three main areas – strategy, organisation and process.
Forty-nine countries have been involved in developing the standard, Mr Haie said, and Australia was one of five actively contributing. The Australian Mirror Committee includes GECA, QUT, Supply Nation, and representatives from federal, state and local governments.
Mr Haie said the standard would assist procurement professionals in avoiding “greenwash” products, and that it was expected to give more traction to third party certified labels.