Leading sustainable procurement in the public and private sectors

The Clear About Carbon project helped organisations reduce the amount of carbon they emitted. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

The Clear About Carbon (CAC) research partnership project helped raise awareness and reduce the amount of carbon emitted by Cornish organisations.

Funded by the European Social Fund (ESF), Principal Investigator Professor Annie Pye led an interdisciplinary team of Business School academics to research and engage with several beneficiaries. Dr Fernando Correia brought an environmental and organisation studies background which complemented Professor Mickey Howard’s expertise in procurement and supply processes. Professor Pye’s and Dr Beverley Hawkins’ understanding of leadership processes helped focus attention on people leading and bringing about change in practice.

The team made use of Action Learning Set methods - a process of experience-based learning and developing action through discussion and reflection - to research leadership and change over time. CAC research helped embed methods to keep carbon emissions low into the procurement policies and supply chains of a number of organisations in Cornwall.


Cornwall College used the project team’s work to help make £99,000 of savings by overhauling their procurement policy. They combined separate processes across their campuses into one more efficient policy.

The team drew on their latest research and a process-mapping technique model, the team highlighted carbon ‘hotspots’ in Cornwall College and supply chain partners. The Group changed their print management process as result. They saved four million sheets of paper by increasing duplex printing. They conserved a further two million sheets by deleting non-collected print jobs.

Group Procurement Officer John Ward said: “The project has helped to provide direction to the procurement strategy which will enable the College to procure in a more low-carbon way and achieve its carbon reduction target.”

Devon and Cornwall Constabulary (D&CC) implemented successful changes in their procurement and practice. They revised the strategy for estates tendering and building contracts to include low carbon and energy efficiency criteria. Additionally they piloted low carbon and sustainability criteria in public tenders. The Constabulary also developed a Sustainability Recognition Scheme across their stations to drive sustainability and energy efficiency practices.

The CAC team’s research was featured in the official UK police magazine Billboard, raising awareness nationally. In 2012, D&CC received the 'Most Sustainable Public Sector Organisation in Emergency Services' award and credited CAC as being a significant partner in this achievement.

Business and Sustainability Manager John Shepherd said: “The Clear About Carbon team were very good on focussing you on what you needed to do.”

You can read more about the project outputs in the Carbon Matters report. The team also wrote refereed academic papers for internationally-regarded journals and published three practitioner articles.


The project partnership included the Eden Project, Duchy College and Cornwall Council. Together they developed a series of tools to help organisations reduce their carbon footprint. These included a calculator to work out emissions associated with utilities and travel.

Some of the project’s ‘carbon literacy’ learning outputs and training materials now form part of the National Sustainable Public Procurement Programme run by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). These are available as a free carbon literacy e-learning resource for private and public sector employees. By November 2013, this had processed more than 580 e-learners, including participants from several UK county councils (eg, Blackburn) and others from as far afield as Australia, South Africa and India.

The Business School team developed a research relationship with the NHS Peninsula Purchasing and Supply Alliance (PPSA). This enabled them to develop a Benefits Tracker Tool that compares cash savings, carbon savings and time savings for public contracts. Several PPSA case studies are now part of the Defra course and are embedded in the national NHS carbon reduction strategy, Procuring for Carbon Reduction (P4CR).

The team has provided seminars for academics and professional associations such as the Chartered Institute for Purchasing and Supply, and run ‘master classes’ and ‘roundtable’ events for practitioners in the region.

The ESF recognised CAC’s work at the 2013 ESF Innovation, Transnationality and Mainstreaming Awards. The project won the Best Mainstreaming Project trophy.

Mark Yeoman, Head of ESF Convergence Communication, said: “Clear About Carbon winning this award is testament to both the effective use of ESF investment bringing innovation to tackling real issues, and to the partner organisations that are taking the ideas and lessons and using them to great effect.”

International partners

Three international partnerships grew from the project. These bought practitioners from different countries together. They shared sustainable development practices and learned from each other.

One partner was Eco-Institut Barcelona, which has supported Barcelona Council to adopt sustainable procurement practices. ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, a European hub for sustainability practice – and the Association of Local Authorities in Skaraborg, which helps the Swedish country grow and develop sustainably, made up the trio.

The project also won the Innovation category at the 2012 Cornwall Works WISE Awards, as well as the 2011 ESF Sustainable Development Specialist Project Leader Award.