The Socially Responsible Procurement Practice: Moving Beyond Social Consciousness (enterprising non-profits Profile)

Posted on September 9, 2008


“The question this raises is quite simply what set of circumstances will elevate green procurement from a nice to do “boutique” status to a more meaningful (and essential) element of a sound purchasing strategy?  At the risk of answering my own question, I do not think that green procurement in and of itself will achieve this status, nor do I believe that it is a reasonable goal.

Factors such as the ever expanding talent vacuum combined with the continuing high rate of e-procurement initiative failures will likely dampen organizational enthusiasm for going green.”

From The Greening of Procurement Revisited (Part 1); Procurement Insights post from June 9, 2008 (Refer to Web Resources Section for URL Link to article)


The very same question regarding socially responsible procurement can and is being asked of a market where increased awareness does not necessarily translate into practicle, every day utilization?   In short how do you get beyond the premise that it is not just the right thing to do, but is also the smart thing to do?

Acting as the conduit between socially responsible procurement practice and sound fiscal planning, enterprising non-profits “enp” ( Program Manager David LePage expends a great deal of time and energy on aligning what has traditionally been viewed as diametrically opposed principles and objectives.  But  unlike the famed Buckley’s cough syrup commercials which proclaim that their product tastes terrible but works great, LePage contends that the myriad of programs that his enp organization oversees represents the blended value or symmetry between bottom line objectives and societal needs.

And while the terms social responsibility, green or sustainable procurement and good corporate citizenship flash across the collective view of a somewhat distracted, occassionally interested public, do we really understand the true value propistion of organizations like LePage’s enterprising non-profits?  Have we in essence identified the fuel that drives the engine of social consciousness and the resulting change in mindset and practice it requires?  

Cannibals With Forks And The Triple Bottom Line

In his book titled “Cannibals With Forks – The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business,” (Capstone Publishing, Oxford 1997) John Elkington coined the phrase (Triple Bottom Line) that also became known as the People, Planet, Profit imperative which encapsulates the values associated with organizational and societal success based on economic, environmental and social considerations.

The premise behind the Triple Bottom Line or TBL is the “stakeholder theory” which contends that “the business entity should be used as a vehicle for coordinating stakeholder interests, instead of maximizing shareholder (owner) profit.”

For the majority of organizations, especially within the private sector, this mindset is the antitheses of responsible corporate governance, and is therefore the trigger for the vacuous smiles and empty platitudes that belie the ever present disconnect between the competing objectives of individual stakeholders.  Afterall, and as any corporate executive would defer, aren’t shareholders also stakeholders?  TBL advocates would be hard pressed to argue this point and still remain true to a “collective” consideration platform of mutual understanding and shared gain.  

In an excerpt from what has turned out to be one of my most popular white papers ever, The Greening of Procurement: How Social Consciousness is Re-Shaping Procurement Practices I made the following observation: 

“Taking his cue from Polish poet and aphorist Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, John Elkington’s book titled Cannibals With Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business, attempts to answer the question, is it progress if a Cannibal uses a fork?

I am certain that the aphoristic character of Lec’s writings were not lost on Elkington when he decided to use the “cannibals” analogy although in many ways it symbolizes the at times vague certainty of the importance of sustainability.

This is an important distinction as the substantive elements that drive corporate decision-making can and in fact does change based upon financial imperatives and the realities that drive them.

In a recent exchange I had with a well-informed environmental advocate, he made the following statement regarding the benefactors of change, which I believe strikes at the very heart of the sustainability issue.  And I quote, “of course, the gains based on sustainability will not be enjoyed by the same companies as today, which profit from carbon extraction and emission.  Industries like wind power, nuclear, solar etc. will benefit from a carbon constrained world.  Others will lose.  The latter are spending millions on disinformation campaigns and lobbying, just as the tobacco companies did for decades, to preserve their profits and to discourage competing technologies.”

This is a true statement to be certain, and one that can be applied to any situation in which the demise of an incumbent is required to pave the way to a new future.  If you were the incumbent in this case, the reality of your situation, and therefore the interpretation of the so called facts may be something different.”  (NOTE: The Greening of Procurement White Paper is available at a nominal cost of $20, of which 50% will be donated directly to the enterprising non-profits organization.  To obtain your copy, simply send me an e-mail at with the word “GREEN” in the subject line.)

I do not know of too many organizations, nor organizational leadership, that would meekly cede to a “greater sensibility” and go quietly into the night of extinction.  And based on our interview, neither does enp Program Manager LePage.   

Success Through Cooperative Understanding

Even though the enp brochure’s tagline champions the organization’s position  that “Directing your purchaing of goods and services to social enterprises is a simple and easy way for business and government to address community challenges,” nowhere does it imply that this be done at the expense of the buying stakeholder.

Instead, and through a thoughtful outline of the numerous programs enp supports, buying organizations are encouraged to both investigate as well as understand how engaging a social enterprise can deliver a mutually beneficial result or win-win outcome for all stakeholders.

And it is through this cooperative approach, in which the more genteel levers of mutual gain are used that the door to future progress is opened.

Why enterprising non-profits (enp)?

For those of you who are part of my reagular readership, you already know that an important tenet of the Procurement Insights Sponsorship Program (which includes these profiles) is my total commitment to neutrality.  In assessing the viability of the enterprising non-profits value proposition, it will be up to you to determine how they may be of service to your organization.  And as is the case with all sponsors, I will direct you to the Sponsor Presentations section of the PI Blog to investigate their programs in greater detail, and at your own convenience.

That said I would like to provide a brief overview of their current programs.

Environment (Evergreen’s Lawn & Garden Smart) offers homeowners the option of environmental friendly landscape.

Employment For Persons With Disabilities (The Cleaning Solution) is a commercial janitorial service that hires persons with mental health issues.

Health Services (Health and Home Care Sociaety of BC) uses profits from its Health Promotion Services to bring affordable home care to seniors and the home-bound.

Arts & Culture (Public Dreams) creates exciting circus-like performances for local events.

Women (Atria Property Management) provides income for Atria Women’s Resource Society to expand its services to women in need.

Youth (Family Services of Greater Vancouver’s Street Youth Job Action) trains and employs homeless youths to clean downtown lanes and streets.

Aboriginal (Prince George Native Friendship Centre’s Smoke House) offers cafeteria and catering services to create local employment.

With the support of cross sector partners such as Bell Canada, Vancity, Northern Trust and the United Way, enterprising non-profits has invested just over $1.2 million to start or support the growth of 65 social enterprises over that past eight years.

Web Resources:

The Greening of Procurement Revisited (Part 1): 

The Greening of Procurement Revisited (Part 2):

The Greening of Procurement: How Social Consciousness is Re-Shaping Procurement Practices (White Paper):

(NOTE: As previously indicated, 50% of the paper’s $20 fee will be donated directly to the enterprising non-profits organization.  To obtain your copy, simply send me an e-mail at with the word “GREEN” in the subject line.)

Link to enterprising non-profits web site: (


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