The power and potential of social procurement in Calgary

At a time when saving money and creating real value is more important than ever, governments across Canada are finding efficiencies and increased impact from public spending. As our city continues to recover from challenging economic times, The City of Calgary is exploring social procurement as a strategy to encourage local entrepreneurship, economic innovation and diversification.

Social procurement leverages existing buying power to increase community benefits like local economic development, targeted employment or training of marginalized people, and environmental benefits. Interest in social procurement is growing among governments and institutions across Canada.

On April 5, 2018, the City of Calgary passed a Notice of Motion to explore how a Social Procurement policy could “support a ‘Well-Run City’ through innovative management by creating processes that support community benefits and return for local taxpayers,” according to the notice.

“Social procurement has been a long-standing practice in other industries,” says Kelly Dowdell, Public Policy Manager at Momentum. “And I think what’s interesting about this shift in the public sector is that there are higher expectations about how the government spends taxpayer money.”

“Can they spend it in ways that assist with community economic development, monitoring environmental impact, or providing jobs to people who face barriers to employment?”

Major Canadian centres like Vancouver and Toronto already have such policies in place – the Healthy City Strategy and the Social Procurement Program, respectively — focusing on creating meaningful jobs and sustainable growth across a diversified economy. The City of Edmonton has spent the past year working with Redemptive Developments to collect used mattresses for recycling – reducing waste in the landfill and providing jobs to people who face barriers to employment. All of these cities are creating a healthy city for all people.

“It’s a process of regeneration.”

Dowdell references Detroit, Michigan as an example. During the 2008 recession in the United States, the failing automotive industry left Detroit decimated. When rent became cheap, all these “interesting people” like entrepreneurs and artists moved in and revitalized the city to become one of the country’s major art centres. There is continued momentum for Calgary to foster innovation and local entrepreneurship to further diversify the economy.

Calgary’s current policy, the Sustainable Environmental & Ethical Procurement Policy (SEEPP), has been in place since 2008, and is now coming under review by The City. Environmental concerns and ethics were the main drivers behind this policy, so when the City sources goods and services from elsewhere, it ensures the business isn’t using child labour or unsafe working conditions.

In addition to SEEPP, social procurement has the potential to align with City initiatives including Calgary’s long-range urban sustainability plan, imagineCALGARY, the Enough for All poverty reduction strategy, as well as the Triple Bottom Line, Fair Calgary, and Environmental policies. As Dowdell explains, the upcoming review and Scoping Report will “pull everything together” to show how social procurement could have a positive impact across these other priorities

Dowdell hopes that the Scoping Report will enable City officials and citizens alike to think about “best value” for public spending beyond the single measure of “best price”. “We should be asking our governments to consider both the economic and social value added to our communities from spending choices that promote environmental stewardship, local business development and economic inclusion,” she says.

“It can do a lot to build resiliency – supporting local entrepreneurs and social enterprises – and stimulate economic activity both in those communities and the city at large in ways that offer new opportunities for people across multiple industries and sectors.”

Take Action:

  • To learn more about Calgary’s social procurement efforts, click here to read SEEPP and the Notice of Motion.
  • Read this article to learn more about Detroit’s revitalization.
  • Read this article to learn more about the City of Edmonton’s mattress recycling program.
  • Learn more about Vancouver and Toronto’s social procurement policies.