With $450 million worth of goods and services purchased at McGill each year, from computers to furniture, nurturing sustainable businesses and procurement practices is essential to the university’s targets of zero-waste by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2040.
One leader in our community working on just this is Stephanie Leclerc, Program Manager for Sustainable Procurement. With her unique interdisciplinary background in environmental policy and planning, management, and industrial ecology, Leclerc is tasked with finding sustainable solutions that meet the needs of McGill. Leclerc’s portfolio also includes the development of the university’s asset management framework and circularity strategy, which are aimed at ensuring compliance with relevant regulations and optimizing the lifecycle of McGill assets.
Leclerc shares her take on conscious purchasing, supporting diversified businesses, and the role of the individual in sustainable procurement with the Office of Sustainability.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What are some of the things that surprised you about sustainable procurement given your background?
I work in procurement, but I am also a PhD candidate and instructor [at McGill]. I have the privilege of researching, teaching, and actively implementing and testing ideas aimed at shifting our modern economy towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns.
I came to this role originally as a student studying e-waste flows. [Procurement Services] were looking for someone to help them improve how the university’s e-waste was being managed. At the time, the associate director was also launching the university’s first Sustainable Procurement strategic planning exercise and I helped out on a voluntary basis. They then opened the position of sustainable procurement manager, and I stepped into the role. My primary task is leveraging our supply chain in support of more favorable social and environmental outcomes.
I guess I see myself as an expert of the university’s “metabolism,” working closely with faculty, staff, and students in efforts to operationalize our 4R [rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle] hierarchy while promoting positive social and economic outcomes throughout our supply chain.
One of the most surprising parts of this position is that I really am using everything in my background to make sense of sustainable procurement; just as much of my political science background as my sustainable management or life-cycle analysis studies. It’s a fascinating area to be working in because there are so many complex issues to reconcile. There are continuous opportunities for learning because things are always changing, which means you have the chance to transform these living systems for the better. There is never a dull moment.
What are some of the aspects of procurement that involve sustainability beyond choosing eco-friendly products and services?
I try to view each procurement contract as an opportunity to do good, not just reduce harm. The Procurement Services team actively tries to find opportunities to support supplier diversity by working with social economy businesses, Indigenous businesses, small businesses, and otherwise contribute to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
My colleagues often hear me talking about the importance of “sharing the wealth” and creating [new] opportunities. The social aspects of sustainable procurement are very important to us. Right now, McGill is considered a leader in sustainable procurement, and we are encouraging other institutions to collaborate with us.
There is no such thing as pushing sustainable procurement on your own, because one organization doesn’t always have enough impact on the market. Currently, all the cell phones that are being bought by hospitals and other universities across the province are more sustainable, because of requirements McGill was able to include in a major group purchase.
By creating a bigger network and bringing other institutions to the table, we are contributing to the wider community and getting the opportunity to uplift more sustainable businesses. There are ample opportunities to encourage and drive the market towards more positive social and environmental results.
What are some of the biggest challenges right now you think we are facing when it comes to sustainability and purchasing?
I would say the two key challenges I see are increasing awareness by those who spend, and greater transparency by those who provide goods and services.
Raising awareness about our spending and the social and environmental repercussions throughout our supply chain is so important. Who made the goods we purchase, under what working conditions, with what energy source were things fabricated, and how will these things last? Can they be repaired, reused, or recycled? Institutional supply chain emissions are notoriously underestimated compared to operating emissions, and this needs to be reckoned with. These are important issues that need proper investigation, and getting everyone on board with this can be a challenge.
Also, when we talk about a circular economy, we’re not just trying to close resource loops, but we may need to slow the whole system as well. This is where institutions and governments can play a key role, by setting parameters or guidelines for spending and making sure there is alignment between our community’s operational needs and overarching sustainability objectives.
Do you believe in the power of individual action? If you had one message to share with future changemakers, what would it be?
I believe individual action is essential and crucial, but [is] insufficient to drive change on its own. Individuals are the ones making decisions about their spending, so every individual’s decision has the potential to be impactful. But we also need large purchasers like governments and institutions to send a clear signal to the market, so suppliers understand they need to improve their systems. Ultimately, both are necessary.
I would say the main thing to realize is that we need everyone on board. This issue applies to all, and it’s relevant in everything that we do. There are always opportunities to do better; I can’t imagine a field of study or a type of work where people couldn’t make a difference. You don’t need to have it all figured out, you just need to be willing to ask questions and investigate issues before spending. With our bright community, I think, and already feel, this will become more and more mainstream.