Delivering real sustainability outcomes and being accountable for that delivery is becoming the norm for a growing band of intelligent clients
This month I had the pleasure of visiting the stunning city of Prague. I had been invited to give a keynote speech at a conference marking the end of a programme of work to promote more responsible procurement in the public sector.
The Czech Republic is an interesting case study. Although they have a proud history of culture and civilisation, they have been an independent democratic state for a little over two decades.
The need to rid public procurement of the legacy of corruption of the soviet era is the main priority, which hampers development of responsible procurement but does not dent the passion of the people I met to make a difference.
Crossrail was represented on one of the panels with one of their main contractors. I am an admirer of Crossrail’s work and they were rightly being paraded as an example of best practice.
They picked up the sustainability baton from the Olympic Delivery Agency and are setting ever more demanding sustainability standards for their project.
During the panel session the contractor admitted that working on this project was a bit of a wakeup call. They did not expect to be so heavily scrutinised to deliver the sustainability standards that had been set.
It is no longer acceptable to toss in a few glossy CSR reports so the client can tick a box
The response has been good and the result has been a significant improvement in social and economic objectives such as apprenticeships.
Too often in our industry contractors are prepared to promise the Earth in a bid with few plans to actually deliver in the sure knowledge that the client will not check. To quote Hilary Clinton: “Campaign in poetry, govern in prose”.
It seems quite common for contractors to employ consultants to help to write bids in specialist areas such as sustainability. If clients are not diligent in following up performance then the good work is wasted and very little is achieved.
This also has the effect of failing to transfer knowledge between consultant and contractor so the institutional knowledge of the contractor remains limited.
Things are changing.
The role of the intelligent client we have seen on Heathrow Terminal 5, the Olympic Park, Crossrail and others is placing greater demand on designers, contractors and their supply chains not only to write nice bids but to demonstrate their performance on the project.
Main contractors recognise that they need to up their game and that they need to expect more from their supply chains, which typically make up 80% of their revenue.
I hope initiatives such as the Supply Chain Sustainability School will help contractors to develop their capability with a free to use service.
To paraphrase Mrs Clinton the habit of “bidding in poetry and delivering in prose” has been around since Noah built his Ark and the practice of employing bid writing consultants is not new either.
Using an expert to help to ensure that the offer is as closely matched to the client as possible is often a good thing to do.
However, it is time to realise that delivering real sustainability outcomes and being accountable for that delivery is becoming the norm for a growing band of intelligent clients and enlightened main contractors.
It is no longer acceptable to toss in a few glossy CSR reports so the client can tick a box.
Bids need to be backed with real institutional competence and demonstrable performance to deliver ever more demanding sustainability standards.
Shaun McCarthy is an independent adviser, author and speaker in the field of sustainable business policy and practice