Strategy # 6: Require Vendors to Complete Sustainability Questionnaires

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.

Incorporate sustainability questionnaire into bid evaluation scoring

Professional services vendors may be motivated to improve their sustainability performance if these actions are scored as part of the bid evaluation in a best value bid solicitation. To do this, the purchaser requires bidders to answer specific sustainability questions and defines how those questions will be evaluated to receive points for bid scoring. Purchasers should consider how they will verify the bidders’ answers and require documentation, whenever possible.  See below for examples of how agencies are using sustainability questions in their competitive bid evaluations.

Case Study: Multnomah County, OR, sustainability questionnaire

Multnomah County, Oregon, focuses on the triple bottom line of sustainability; Environmental Considerations, Social Equity and Economic Impact. They seeks to conduct business with vendors who demonstrate responsible business practices through sustainable innovations and accordingly, they include vendor evaluation questions on responsible business practices of up to 25% of the bid evaluation points, a portion of which directly relate to environmental initiatives implemented by the vendor. Below is a link to a contracting example from Multnomah County.

Find out more at Multnomah County’s website.           

Case Study: City of Vancouver, Canada corporate leadership questionnaire

The City of Vancouver, Canada uses a Supplier Code of Conduct to ensure all City vendors meet minimum requirements related to ethical, social and environmental standards. In addition, they recognize vendors that are demonstrating leadership and innovation in sustainability by asking vendors to complete a corporate leadership questionnaire. Completion of the questionnaire is required, and answers are evaluated as part of bid scoring as described in the bid document.

Find out more about Vancouver’s sustainable purchasing program at their website.