Procurement for the Planet: Environmental, Ecological and Economic Expectations

THEME: Circular Economy, Procurement, Sustainability

This article was written as a follow up to a classZoom session with SCC colleagues in early February 2021. I will reiterate key parts of our discussions.  

With respect to environmental issues, we know that many causes of our problems have reasonable solutions which we have agreed to undertake. i.e., the depletion of the ozone layer was attributed to aerosol propellants such as CFCs. As an industry, the producers of the aerosol products agreed in cooperation with the Canadian government, to phase out the use of CFCs 40+ years ago.  During this phase out period, they then turned to the use HFCs as the propellent of choice. HFCs are not as harmful environmentally as CFCs but contribute to the GHG emissions causing global warming and have not resolved the ozone depletion. The industry again agreed to phase out HFCs which are common in HVAC systems. 40-50 years to phase out harmful emissions is a proxy for ignoring the problem in the first place.

Hydrofluoric acid remains a common toxic compound used to pickle and passivate stainless steel after welding. Hydrofluoric acid residue must be treated as a hazardous waste material. A drop in the eye could blind a person, while a drop on the skin results in horrific burns. A much safer, Canadian-made alternative to these traditional, hydrofluoric acid products, is SWHTRTM or Elimitint™ (when sold under the Praxair brand).  Developed, manufactured and patented by Protocol Environmental Solutions, it is distributed by Praxair and welding supply companies. The efficacy of SWHTRTM / Elimitint™ is better, safer and means less project liability. It has a ~50% lower total cost of ownership. Yet, the status quo supports the use of hydrofluoric acid. The devil you know…

Concrete etching and mechanical preparation methods either result in the creation of hazardous silica dust or involve the use of toxic hydrochloric /muriatic acid. As per WorkSafeBC, “Silica is one of the most common hazards on a worksite, particularly in the construction, oil and gas, manufacturing, and agriculture industries. Silica dust can cause silicosis, a serious and irreversible lung disease. It can also cause lung cancer. Cutting, breaking, crushing, drilling, grinding, or blasting concrete or stone releases the dust. As workers breathe in the dust the silica settles in their lungs. Again, a Canadian-developed product from Protocol Environmental Solutions is WashAway Xtreme™. It is water-based and fully biodegradable. Most importantly, it eliminates the silica dust problem on job sites. And, it is a ~50% lower cost solution with no health hazards! Smart technologies are growing in most sectors and referred to as disruptive technologies to the status quo.

The status quo in organizations and within procurement teams can be self-limiting. What worked for us last week, is likely what we are going to continue with next week, until it doesn’t work. If everyone is buying it, it must be OK. If it is government approved it must be OK. With reference to the CFCs, HFCs, silica dust, hydrochloric / muriatic acid issues, the status quo is slow to change. The common default is we can’t afford to change. At one time we couldn’t afford to remove the lead from gasoline; we couldn’t afford a health care system; and we couldn’t afford to remove trans fats from food products. It turns out, we couldn’t afford not to.

My intent is to increase the awareness of responsible solutions for businesses. Environmental issues are global in nature and can create a defeatist attitude-what more can one do? Within your sphere of influence, as a supply chain professional, it is your duty to bring to the attention of your senior management group, better alternatives in goods and services. It is not your responsibility to make sure they are accepted.

These excerpts from the Supply Chain Canada Code of Ethics speak to our responsibilities as follows: 

 A. Standards of Conduct

5. Environmental and Social Responsibilities

Members shall exercise their responsibilities in a manner that promotes and provides opportunities for the protection and preservation of the natural environment. 

Members shall favour the use and distribution of resources in an efficient, effective, and ethical manner. 

B. Professional Principles

2. Professionalism 

To provide professional advice to their employer or any other impacted party to the best of their knowledge, recognizing that any final decision is the prerogative of the senior authority within the employing organization; to act with courtesy and due consideration in dealings with other professional members and in all business relationships.

Our Code of Ethics are not platitudes. As supply chain professionals, progressively challenging the status quo is expected of members. 

Our current economic model is based on increased consumption, where more and cheaper are better. We are beginning to adopt leading practices found in the Circular Economy. Resource conservation is the mantra in the Circular Economy. Environmental and health problems are largely anthropogenic. It’s within our collective spheres of influence to accept responsibility and initiate appropriate actions.

Being aware, leads to advocacy, which leads to action.

Larry Berglund SCMP MBA FSCMA
Presentations Plus Training & Consulting Inc