World Bank: Chasing Paper

Thu, 01/04/10

When UN agencies were asked to identify the biggest element in their environmental footprint, the World Bank's answer was paper. All those reports and exchanges of written information at the core of the Bank’s work use tonnes and tonnes of it. 

Jane Bloodworth has been tackling the problem head on. As manager of the World Bank’s Printing, Graphics and Map Design Unit (known as GSDPG), she had already run a drive dating back ten years to cut unnecessary paper usage. On this score, a remarkable two thirds reduction in paper consumption had been achieved, thanks to measures which ranged from eliminating blank pages in documents and using default settings for double-sided printing on copiers, to encouraging the use of paperless communications media such as CD Rom and teleconferencing. Other initiatives had addressed waste management, ink type, and ensuring that equipment could use recycled paper stock. This all helped, of course, but with paper still weighing heavily on the environmental acccount – and most of what was being used at the Bank still only 30% recycled content at most – Jane turned her spotlight on to the procurement process. 

When existing contracts with paper suppliers expired, she saw her opportunity to strengthen the environmental dimension in the way purchasing decisions were made. What she went on to create, with her GSDPG working hand in hand with the Bank's Corporate Responsibility (CR) programme and Corporate Procurement, was a groundbreaking new system for scoring suppliers' bids. Sustainability factors count for 70% of the total bid score, and price as only 30%. 

The net result is both a smaller environmental footprint for the World Bank's printing programme, and the confidence that its paper is all sourced, manufactured and transported in a responsible manner. World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick has said: “Together, the World Bank and UN system can set an example for the international community by making our activities more environmentally sustainable.” The GSDPG's 70:30 paper procurement policy is a clear instance of that rhetoric in practical action. Here's how it works. 

Jane's unit was using an easy-to-use, colour-coded suppliers' guide, developed to differentiate between three levels of environmental impact - green for 'good', yellow for 'OK' and red for 'reconsider'. But both Jane and the CR team wanted to extend the criteria it covered, pushing the paper industry beyond familiar issues like sustainable forest management and types of chemical treatment to consider questions like how a mill’s energy was generated, or the distance the fibre and the paper had to travel. She wanted to take account of other factors too, ranging from what packaging they used, to whether they had a greenhouse gas inventory or published a sustainability report. 

A set of expanded guidelines retained the three rankings - 'good', 'OK' and 'reconsider' - but applied them to eight categories: fibre type, fibre source and distance travelled (pulp to mill), product source and distance (mill to customer), chemical processing, certification when sourcing paper, energy source (fossil fuel or renewable), transportation mode and distance, and 'other sustainability considerations'. There was scope for additional references, and an Excel spreadsheet developed by the CR team allowed prospective suppliers to input their answers easily. 

Jane and the CR team then reconvened to create a ranking system. While giving due weight to the largest impact (forest management), they wanted it to reflect the importance of the other criteria properly too. Getting this right involved them in extensive desk research. For instance, in areas covered by certification schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), they did accord significance to these certificates, but also delved into the various components required by the various schemes, wanting to give credit to vendors who met their standards even if they hadn't gone through a formal certification scheme. 

Energy sources and energy consumption were particularly important – and the category for transport method and distance travelled proved especially tricky. Should more weight be given to sourcing locally, from within a 480 km (300 mile) radius, or to more sustainable transport methods, bring a product by train from further away rather than by truck for the shorter distance? The final result, which gave the latter a higher ranking, was worked out using an emissions calculator created by the CR team, based on guidance from the US Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Leaders scheme. 

The eighth category in the score sheet allowed the review team to assess whether the mill and the distributor were serious about sustainability. It allocated them one extra point for every initiative they followed, essentially so as to raise awareness among the vendors that these things really do count. 

Once the scoring was agreed, it was integrated into the background of the spreadsheets. These could then be used with a minimum of manual scoring to aggregate vendor responses and evaluate their bids.

Developing this new approach to paper procurement took time. Those who took it on were doing so on top of their normal workload, but one of its virtues lay in the strong partnership it forged between the various World Bank groups involved. As the GSDPG manager, Jane saw her strong personal convictions about sustainability bearing fruit, with contracts going to the most sustainable contractor while maintaining the financial bottom line. The Procurement group, with its mandate to ensure supplier access and the use of transparent guidelines to assess vendor proposals, supported the GSDPG manager in creating a set of clear metrics and turning them into viable evaluation tools. The Corporate Responsibility team, whose broad perspective on sustainability helped to widen the way issues were considered in this procurement initiative, worked quickly to climb the learning curve on key aspects of the paper industry’s footprint, and to translate all the environmental impact factors into easy-to-use tools.


Costs and benefits


In 2007, before the 70:30 policy came into effect, there were four suppliers under contract to GSDPG, with total annual paper purchases for the World Bank amounting to about USD 1.7 million. The contracts awarded under the new rules, on 11 July 2009, went to the same four suppliers – but with a big shift in their respective shares of the business. The prime supplier was now the one who had previously been only the third largest, and the former prime supplier had in turn slipped back to third place. 

The financial implications were not dramatic, but the overall profile of the supply chain has been made much more sustainable, taking account of distances and methods of transport, manufacturer’s energy sources, chemical processing methods, and other key environmental factors. 

Given the shortage of resources on all sides, this was a remarkable accomplishment for the 70:30 project. What is more, its quantification of environmental impacts is already providing a solid foundation for future procurement initiatives. The Procurement group has approached the CR team to develop similar tools for electronics, the paper evaluation process is being written up as a case study for a procurement journal, the tools are being shared with other institutions – and the prime paper vendor has chosen GSDPG manager Jane Bloodworth as number one Sustainable Partner for 2010, for valuing the emphasis on environmental attributes of paper manufacturing over price impact in the procurement process. 

This project saw different units in the World Bank came together to develop a showcase procurement project. It developed new sustainable procurement guidelines, with transparent environmental weighting criteria, and demonstrated at the same time that sustainability does not have to cost more. Not only is the paper in every photocopier, printer and fax machine now 100% recycled, and all the paper used in Bank publications and communications has a very high recycled fibre content, but the Bank can state confidently that it is all manufactured and delivered in the most sustainable manner – and this claim is auditable. 

Categories: Energy, Leadership, Procurement