ICT suppliers told to go green or lose govt deals

ICT suppliers will soon have to meet sustainability standards if they want to sell products or services to the government and the wider public sector. If businesses don’t make the grade, they may not win government business.

The Ministry of Economic Development (MED) is devising a sustainable procurement policy, which it expects will become mandatory for central government agencies — and with the expectation it will be adopted by the wider public sector, including local councils.

The MED says it has begun consultations with its suppliers on the policy, which will apply to a public sector procurement market estimated by the OECD to be worth $14–$20 billion.

Consultations with the ICT sector are expected in the next few months, with sustainable procurement targets and guidelines to be in place by the year-end.

However, ministry staff are unsure what might happen to these plans and guidelines should there be a change of government.

Prime Minister Helen Clark announced the Sustainable Procurement Project in February 2006 as part of a “six-pack” of environmental initiatives.

The project comes as the Ministry of the Environment is also developing new regulations on waste disposal, which will affect all organisations.

Andy Woodwark, senior analyst in the government’s procurement development group, has been working on the polices.

The government has already agreed standards and targets in other industry sectors, such as paper, and work is “well underway” with ICT, whiteware and building categories, Woodwark says. He says he is not aware of National’s position on the sustainability project.

Wooodwark says it is essential to develop standards and guidelines that are relevant and achievable. This includes using standards such as Energy Star and RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) directives, which are also being adopted globally.

He accepts it is sometimes unhelpful to provide hard and fast rules about the weighting of sustainability factors but offerings must still remain “fit for purpose” and offer value for money, he says.

Government would also be aware of suppliers making “greenwash” claims for their products and advises vendors to keep alert of such claims from their own suppliers. It would expect the use of third-party verification and the use of international standards such as ISO:14000 or recognised eco-labels to verify sustainability claims.

“The overall impact of ICT on climate change is hard to calculate. Gartner suggests that that the technology sector contributes as much CO2 to the atmosphere as the airline industry,” Woodwark says.

Sustainability is also not just about buying green, but how sustainability forms part of an organisation’s overall ICT strategy, he continues. Therefore, how a server uses power is also important.

Woodwark says the standards under development won’t carry legal status, so private firms will be unaffected, unless they sell to government.

IT suppliers would have to advise government about how their products operate sustainably as well as what has gone into them. The organisations behind the products or services would also have to show they are behaving in an appropriate way.

This would include reporting on their own reduced emissions programmes and looking at their own supply chain.

“It adds an extra dimension to government tenders,” Woodwark says.

Woodwark likens the guidelines to existing “triple bottom line” and corporate social responsibility reporting.

He says work with industry groups on simplifying standards and documentation shouldn’t make tenders too complicated.

While formal consultation with the ICT sector has yet to begin, Woodwark says “high level” discussions with vendors have already taken place.

“We are not doing anything out of the ordinary. It doesn’t fill them with horror,” he says.

TUANZ chief executive Ernie Newman says he is unaware of such procurement polices under development by government but doubts they will be too troublesome.

“This has not yet been raised within TUANZ. We will certainly have a look at it,” he says.

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