Sustainability and sustainable procurement in FAO

Tue, 05/12/17

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in our society. Over time, companies and organisations are becoming more and more aware of the fact that there is no alternative to sustainable development, which brings benefits not only to society and the economy, but also to the entity applying sustainability principles to its internal processes and procedures. 

FAO, as a humanitarian organisation with an important mandate, has an overriding responsibility to ensure its activities are delivered in the most environmentally responsible, sustainable way possible and sustainable procurement is a necessary part of that.

Sustainable procurement is defined by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) as “a process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole-life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organisation, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment.”

Implementing sustainable procurement implies not only achieving the best value for money, but also ensuring benefits for society and the economy as a whole. Often, the process can require more resources, time and a higher degree of collaboration and engagement between all parties in a supply chain as it aims to have a better understanding of the impact of the procurement at hand, from many different angles.

FAO’s procurement function, which forms part of the Corporate Services Department, actively supports the organisation’s Corporate Environmental Responsibility Policy. This includes championing “best practices and initiatives that help reduce FAO’s environmental impact and simultaneously improve operational effectiveness", as well as offering certified sustainable procurement training courses, delivered by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to all procurement staff amongst other things. The procurement team also strives to “integrate environmental criteria into the procurement process where viable and in the best interests of the organisation and its stakeholders”.

UNOPS sustainable procurement training at FAO

A good example of sustainable procurement in FAO is a recent catering contract, in which the contractor has committed to ensuring all activities are managed in a sustainable manner in line with FAO’s Corporate Environmental Responsibility Policy. They have committed to ensuring that packaging is reduced to a minimum, for example by purchasing in bulk where possible and providing products through dispensers e.g. sugar dispensers with portion control, drink dispensers and pitchers for water. They will also ensure food and drinks are served in porcelain, glass and metal tableware, whilst all take-away tableware and packaging is compostable and should be disposed in labelled ‘organic waste’ bins.

Food products are purchased, almost exclusively, from socially or environmentally sustainable value chains. Local produce is sourced from organic and biodynamic farms, and labels such as Fairtrade, DOP (Designation of Origin), IGT (Protected Geographical Indication) and DOCG (Controlled Designation of Origin) are encouraged. All fish is Friends of the Sea certified and the contractor supports three social enterprises: Capodarco Coop, which seeks to integrate people with disability in the labour market; Libera Terra, which works to recover/reuse territories and companies confiscated by the mafia; and Pausa Caffe, which employs former prisoners for professional and personal rehabilitation.

The contractor has also committed to managing food waste in an environmentally responsible way, by training catering staff on how to avoid food waste and other waste production. Unavoidable waste is ultimately handled according to FAO’s internal procedures and unsold food is donated to the food bank Siticibo.

Internal procedures ensure the environmentally sound use of resources, with a focus on circular economy principles when purchasing and disposing of materials. For example, detergents are EU Ecolabel certified and all takeaway containers and tableware are 100% recyclable.

Communication is also key to success, so the caterer is providing information about the food offered and other initiatives through TV screens in the canteen, other materials and a yearly sustainability report. 

FAO canteen with display screens and other sustainability communications

In addition to the above measures, an entire section of the contract was dedicated to procurement transparency and integrity including a descriptive food table that includes certifications, country of origin, quality criteria, legal compliance protected designation of origin, geographical indication, traditional specialties, social farming, fair trade products and organic products.

In summary, FAO has committed to ensuring its activities are carried out in the most environmentally responsible and sustainable way possible. The catering contract recently issued is emblematic of what sustainable procurement should look like, and has been a success. It has also created an opportunity to benchmark for future FAO contracts and similar contracts in other UN agencies, as well as an opportunity to learn and improve.

This story was written by Arslen Bounemra, Chief Procurement Service, FAO

Categories: Procurement, Waste