Recently I attended a small gathering of around 50 people in Toronto to review green procurement and carbon procurement policies. It was a very well informed cross-section of government and private sector people in leadership roles. It was truly a half-day of great discussion with respect to every segment of green policy with many thought-provoking ideas being reviewed.
This is a topic that I have great passion for and sadly have had these very same conversations for the last four decades, without solving the problem of how to implement policy and procedures that can be adopted by all levels of government and municipalities.
One could argue that the manufacturers of environmentally "friendly" products are often the only source of information concerning the benefits that their products offer.
Frequently, the benefits of using such products are overstated, while the costs are blithely ignored.
For example, I was around in the 1970s when governments subsidized the installation of urea-formaldehyde foam insulation in homes as an energy saving measure. I also remember the 1980s, when it was banned as a health risk.
More generally, the term "green-washing" has come to describe claims by companies that their products are environmentally friendly (or more so than others) when they really are not.
This type of misleading advertising has become common since early 2007, when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its warning that global warming was reaching the point of no return.
I feel that environmental concerns are of great importance and should heavily influence large purchasing decisions. My issue is with elected officials that adopt cliche-riddled broad policy statements and sustainability favouring green procurement without proper procedures for staff to follow and be accountable for. Every level of government should provide much more guidance to those who strive to make the policy work; particularly, they need to be specific in the direction as to the manner in which decisions are to be made.
In a democracy, where policies conflict, the reconciliation should be made by elected officials, not the bureaucracy. This is particularly true where implementing a given policy may result in a long-term financial burden that implies an adjustment to taxes.
Ideally, elected officials need to confront directly the policy trade-offs that environmental protection may require and provide procurement staff the direction and tools to implement them. I could write the policies and procedures in a day, however the problem is getting them adopted one municipality at a time.
The other issue is that one size does not fit all when it comes to every municipality across Canada. I would suggest we pick several different sized municipalities and give them proper policies and procedures for dealing with green procurement, on a trial basis.
Monitor and measure the results, make sure all the checks and balances are in place and then adopt this process across Canada with solid data to make sure we are on the right path. It is actually a simple way to get this problem solved. In my lifetime I have been involved in 42 years of discussion, it is now time to do something about it. We have reviewed too many ideas with not enough action on the part of both industry as well as government.
The very simple solution to a very complex problem is to just write a fair and reasonable policy and get some municipality to adopt it. I even have a couple of municipalities to talk to that would be up for this on a trial basis. Let's look at 2017 as a year of action and a coming together of minds to get the ball rolling. The time for talking is over and the time for action has arrived.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at email@example.com.
Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.