Low-carbon procurement is high value

NEW COMMITMENTS made by leading UK companies and government departments in three joint ‘Procurement Compacts’ will drive low carbon sourcing in more than £1bn of spending.

 

The new initiative, spearheaded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, will demonstrate demand for low to zero carbon products in three pilot sectors – catering, transport and renewable energy – thus encouraging innovation and investment by suppliers, and driving growth and jobs.

 

In essence, the compacts are a call-to-arms to suppliers in these sectors to participate in an open dialogue about how they can work with their customers to bring progressively lower-carbon goods and services to the market. There are no legally binding targets – just commitments from the signatories that if suppliers can deliver low-carbon products and services at an acceptable price, they will buy them.

 

In the ‘catering compact’ the signatories state their ambition to purchase progressively lower carbon catering goods and services, taking into account food procurement, transportation, distribution, preparation, and waste management. Signatories include Lloyds Banking Group, which has catering in over 80 offices, and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, which serves three million meals per year.

 

The total energy consumption of Britain’s catering industry is estimated to be in excess of 21,600 million kWh per year. Over 30% of the energy is used in commercial catering establishments, and more than 50% in non-commercial catering such as schools and hospitals. With moderate improvements in efficiency, and effective use of equipment, savings of up to 20% are achievable – equivalent to £80 million per year.

 

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "The Government has a key role to play in ensuring more effective supply chain engagement, and by signalling demand for low carbon innovation. This important initiative will help to drive investment in new and better goods and services.”

 

In catering, in particular, there are substantial opportunities for carbon savings through better procurement. Cable cited the example of a family-run baker that received a grant from the Carbon Trust to install new ovens, which resulted in carbon savings of up to 40%. “Multiply that across all the ovens used in the public sector and that becomes an excellent saving,” he enthused.

 

The greatest strength of the compact is its simplicity, according to Cable. But its simplicity may also turn out to be the scheme’s greatest weakness. As the Carbon Trust pointed out during the launch event, measuring the impact of carbon is not a simple process. Much of the carbon impact of food products, in particular, is not in operational carbon but carbon embedded in products at the production end of the supply chain. Cable, however, made no apologies for excluding embedded carbon from consideration in the compacts. “It would be incredibly difficult to apply and may end up with nothing being done. Our main task is to get to first base,” he said.

 

The challenge will be in convincing suppliers that they intend to make good on their commitments. If the Government’s recent performance on sustainable procurement is anything to go by, the partnership may be wise in not seeking to run before it can walk. DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was recently found to be falling short of meeting its own buying standards on food procurement; proof, in the opinion of campaigners at Sustain, that “the government is not prioritising sustainability when it comes to buying food with taxpayers’ money”.

 

Keith Warren, the director of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association, welcomed the initiative but said it was in need of refinement and recommended the setting up of a cross-departmental strategy group committed to driving the agenda forward.

 

For a full report check out the June issue of Foodservice Footprint, published later this month

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