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Insights 13 Apr 2012

Half a trillion dollars buys a lot of influence

By Jeff Erikson

How can an organisation that buys one-half trillion dollars worth of stuff every year create a sustainable supply chain? That was the question posed to me and about 80 other guests who were invited by the White House to a meeting on March 30.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the General Services Administration (GSA) co-sponsored a group brainstorm on what a Community of Practice for a Sustainable Supply Chain should look like. Put simply, a Community of Practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better through regular interaction.

GSA does most of the purchasing for the US government (with the exception of military spending), and they want to use their buying power to drive sustainability practices down through the supply chain.

[Yes, this is the same GSA whose director resigned and two senior officials were fired three days after our meeting for excessive expenditures at an internal meeting in Las Vegas last year. Does that diminish the moral authority of the organization? Absolutely. Does it diminish the need to act? Absolutely not.]

CEQ and GSA brought a broad vision for the Community of Practice into the room, asked a few prompting questions, then sat back and listened. I facilitated one of the breakout groups intended to define the key attributes of a Supply Chain CoP, which, given the very diverse perspectives and the strong and confident personalities of the attendees, was a lot like herding cats. In any case, while there was no consensus on the specifics, there were plenty of excellent suggestions and ideas.

GSA is now in the process of compiling, sorting and making sense of all of the advice they received. By engaging with knowledgeable experts and practitioners, the end product will certainly be stronger than it would be if GSA developed it in isolation. And while there are plenty of details to be worked out, the potential for the CoP to not only drive environmental improvements, but to reduce the cost to the taxpayer as well, is enormous.

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