One of the most common strategies to-date for government agencies and higher education institutions to influence their vendors’ operational and supply chain practices is to request information from them on their sustainability practices as part of the bid solicitation. While these requests go by many different names (survey, scorecard, checklist or questionnaire), their purpose is to encourage vendors to improve their sustainability performance by asking them to disclose their efforts to reduce GHG emissions during the bid solicitation process. The questions asked by the organization may be the same for each solicitation, or they may be tailored to each bid in order to focus on where the largest sources of operational or supply chain impact are likely to occur within the contract.
Both vendors and purchasers face significant challenges to using questionnaires effectively. For purchasers, unless the data is verified by a third party, it is difficult to verify the responses provided by vendors. In addition, the general nature of many of the questions asked as part of a solicitation may not address the largest opportunity for impact reduction. From the vendor’s point of view, some vendors have reported a large increase in the number of solicitations requiring completion of sustainability questionnaires, each with their own unique format. This has required a shift in the vendor’s resource and time allocation towards completing these surveys rather than focusing on business sustainability. Lastly, in our research, we found that no public agencies requesting sustainability questionnaires from vendors were using this information beyond the bid evaluation to benchmark and measure vendor performance improvements, or engage in strategic partnerships to advance mutual sustainability goals.
However, our research identified some established and emerging best practices for utilizing surveys in contracting for professional services.