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Sustainable Sourcing and Contract Bids

Sustainable sourcing, sometimes referred to as green procurement, has become commonplace in most state and federal contract bids. These federal government and municipal organizations are requiring their suppliers and vendors to be sustainable. Many private sector companies issuing Requests For Proposals or contract bids also require or prefer purchasing from sustainable suppliers. They often require some sort of green, environmental or sustainability certification that demonstrates the bidders’ products, services or business practices are built and delivered in a sustainable way.

How To Ensure Sustainability Credibility

Companies serious about sustainability must have a credible and transparent way to communicate their sustainability standing to have any chance at being selected in the modern day procurement cycle. They need to position themselves with credibility when speaking about their businesses environmental achievements. They must accurately demonstrate their green status to win contract bids and meet stringent sustainable sourcing criteria. They need to show how their green business practices merit consideration in procurement bids which can be nuanced and sometimes difficult. In most cases, that may call for a 3rd party sustainability certification or what we often call green business certification.

Note: This article will focus on companies that are required to demonstrate a certain level of commitment to sustainability in their business practices and policies as part of their contract bids. It is not focused on organizations that produce or manufacture green products. Firms that produce sustainable products generally know how to detail what differentiates their offerings and pursue “green seals”.

Step 1: Walk the Walk

Bidding on contracts as a sustainable supplier starts with being a sustainable supplier. There’s no faking it. You have to be a committed environmental steward, not just to bid on projects and contracts, but also to protect the planet, society, local communities and your workers. Doing so will also make you a better-run and more efficient business. From a procurement competitive standpoint, most companies today are engaged in some sustainability efforts. If you are not, you are late to the party and at a competitive disadvantage. This is clearly shown by the fact that in 2020 more than 95% of the companies in the S&P 500 were officially reporting on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors. Compare that to 2013 when less than 20% were.

Alternatives to ESG Reporting

Your company is likely doing some things in a sustainable manner, but you probably lack the resources of an S&P 500 company to engage with ESG Reporting solutions and providers. It is a major undertaking. We’ll discuss an alternative and affordable way to not only accurately measure all the great things they have already done, but to also know where you really stand and the potential impact of where you could be. After all, if you can’t measure where you are, you can not manage where you want to be.

You also need a way to engage your employees and direct them where you need them to go. A clear sustainability framework and scorecard are necessary tools. It will help engage your employees and help your company maximize its sustainability impact. It will turn you into a sustainable business that can then easily and honestly demonstrate your sustainable practices in sustainable sourcing and contract bid processes.

Step 2: Talk the Talk

The experiences you gain will give you credibility and authenticity in all your customer facing business dealings, not just contract bids. When organizations instill a sustainable culture, it permeates throughout everything you do. Employees feel purpose-driven and are more productive. Processes are more efficient, energy usage is down and costs are reduced. You produce less waste and reduce your carbon footprint. If you’re a public company, you’ll increase your ESG rating. These results become part of your company’s story and part of how employees engage with your customers.

Sustainability As a Competitive Advantage

Being a very sustainable business today is a true competitive advantage. To be a great company today, you have to be a “good” company as well. It’s the only way to attract the best employees and best customers. It will also elevate your brand. There are reasons that companies like Patagonia come to any business conversation with the aura of being a true leader in social responsibility and sustainability. They lead by example and without greenwashing, are able to promote their green commitment and accomplishments. Companies aspire to be like them.

Sustainable Business Certification Options

Once you begin to implement sustainability initiatives in your business, you need to promote those achievements actively and relentlessly, internally and externally. To gain real credibility for those efforts though and to be taken seriously in any sustainable sourcing process, you will likely need to be independently certified by a credible 3rd party organization or bureau. Options include B-Corp, LEED, ISO14001 and Green Business Bureau certifications.

Choose the Most Credible and Right Certification for Your Business

There are many factors your organization should consider in selecting the right independent certification partner:

  • Your industry – Are there environmental industry regulations?
  • Your location – Are there local regulations or local environmental agencies?
  • Your company size and budget – What resources do you have to get certified?
  • Your processes – What can you and your employees do to be more sustainable?
  • Time frame – Is there an urgent need to be certified for an impending contract bid?
  • Type of contracts – Does your company bid on government work? Do your customers require you to be sustainable, e.g. Walmart, ?

These factors will often dictate the type of certification you should pursue. For example, a sustainable sourcing process may specifically call for green building certification in which LEED Certification would be most appropriate. Even though this can be a long, costly process, you may have no choice. If you are in a manufacturing business where sustainability and environmental compliance has become mission critical, ISO 14001 may be your only option. If your core business and brand is grounded in sustainability, the B Corp path may make sense.  Again a longer and rigorous process, but worth it in some situations.

Green Business Bureau Certification

Another common option is to complete an online Green Business Bureau Certification. The Green Business Bureau program is a robust program for helping companies become more sustainable and includes an online EcoAssessment tool, EcoPlanner tool and green business certification. It includes over 400 green initiatives and EcoPlans to consider and choose from. GBB’s certification process is entirely initiative based, so a company will receive points for each and every activity it completes. Initiatives are organized by the business area they impact, such as building, cafeteria, transportation or office materials, and further marked by the effort, cost and greening impact of the initiative. This simple but flexible structure ensures a company can easily target and implement the efforts that best suit the company’s needs and opportunities.

The Green Business Bureau seal is well-recognized so member businesses get the positive recognition of their commitment to sustainability and the environment. GBB provides a collection of tools and opportunities for member companies to share, differentiate and be recognized for their greening achievements with customers, prospects, partners, regulators and communities alike. A ‘clickable’ web seal takes customers and employees to a personal sustainability webpage that shows a business’s green level, points and accomplishments.

Summary

In choosing the right certification approach for their unique business, companies must look at not only the budget or the time it might take to become credibly certified, they must also consider what solution will most help them understand their current state and help them become more sustainable.

Companies should implement a sustainability framework as part of the certification to help them prioritize, plan, implement and measure their success. As discussed, a certification program will engage employees and help create a green culture. In many cases, a targeted program like Green Business Bureau Certification is an affordable and flexible option that may be the best path for your business. GBB Certification can also be a first easy step towards eventually becoming B-Corp certified or ISO14001 compliant.

In summary, companies that look beyond just being certified for contract bids and implement a sustainability framework and solution that instills a sustainability purpose and culture in its organization will reap tremendous benefits. These companies will be rewarded on multiple fronts and meet the sustainability demands of all stakeholders: prospects, customers, partners, employees, investors, shareholders and the planet. And of course, these companies will win more contract bids and earn more new customers. It goes without saying, green business is good business. The two go hand in hand.

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