Tim Lowe has made it his mission to ensure WWF values are embedded in procurement © Peter Spinney
Tim Lowe has made it his mission to ensure WWF values are embedded in procurement © Peter Spinney

WWF-UK leads procurement with ethical values

posted by Jacki Buist
17 April 2020

The procurement team at WWF-UK takes its eco-responsibilities seriously – that much is obvious when you step inside the organisation’s impressive new building. SM spoke to head of procurement Tim Lowe.

At the official opening of The Living Planet Centre – home of WWF-UK – in 2013, David Attenborough declared the organisation one of the great hopes for the world, saying its new head office and visitor centre “not only enshrines that but projects it to visitors”. The abundance of plants, solar panels and the wind cowls on the roof that drive natural ventilation reveal just some of its environmental credentials. There’s also the recycled wood, the low-carbon combined heat and power source and the carpet tiles made from old fishing nets.

The centre was built with the support of a £5m grant from the Rufford Foundation, which funds nature conservation projects. The project set out to – and achieved – the highest environmental certification, an outstanding Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) rating.

So, when Tim Lowe took on the role of head of procurement at WWF-UK three years later, he set about taking procurement activities in line with the WWF ethos, tackling the facilities management contract for the building when it was up for renewal in 2018. In turning it round, the team won the 2019 CIPS SM award for Ethical Procurement in the Private Sector.

The World Wide Fund for Nature is the UK arm of World Wildlife Fund International, which works to resolve environmental problems in forests, oceans, wildlife, food, climates and freshwater, and which provides coordination and governance for its regional divisions, including for procurement, explains Lowe. “It has 16 principles on how we should be contracting suppliers, whether in the UK or Uganda,” he says. These are based on the principles of third-party contracts demonstrating sound stewardship of WWF funds, proactive management of risks, and environmentally and ethically responsible sourcing practices.

That’s quite a challenge to define an achievable and realistic standard for around 80 offices with diverse locations, size and scope of work, he adds. “It doesn’t guarantee perfect procurement, but it does at least establish some good principles. And we have some networking to support and encourage offices to follow that.”

While some concentrate on conservation work or species in their territories, WWF-UK aims to deliver all of the group’s objectives on policy development and conservation work. The focus is on protecting nature and species, campaigning on food and climate change, helping shape policy and legislation, and funding projects. “A lot of our grant giving goes to overseas offices, creating new designated places for wildlife protection, influencing some overseas governments. In the UK, the Environment Act is the key piece of legislation that colleagues are looking to influence and advocate for.”

WWF-UK has helped to shape the Environment Bill 2019-21, campaigning to add targets, and is now working on adding a due diligence obligation, requiring companies to prove that their supply chains aren’t wrecking the planet.

WWF-UK spends over £100m a year on its staff, suppliers and grant spend on different programmes and projects. Marketing and fundraising programmes are a key spend, vital to sustain and grow the income profile of the charity, as it is reliant on public fundraising and donations, with very little public sector funding, says Lowe. “The charity is performing well and the income has grown, certainly in the time I’ve been here.” He puts that down to donors, grant giving foundations and partnerships.

“Public fundraising and corporate partnerships amount to around 85%. Corporate partnerships are an important funding source, and provide opportunities to influence the commercial sector,” he says.

The procurement team spends £25-30m a year, and has 700 active suppliers, of which Lowe classes fewer than 50 as strategically significant. “Purchase order wise, there are around 5,000 individual transactions, which is significant, but not the kind of numbers that large organisations deal with, which gives me an opportunity to try to influence the whole of it.”

Largely, Lowe is happy with his control of the procurement system, which he credits to a well set-up system, and he approves every purchase order that doesn’t follow the normal route above the procurement threshold. He’s also very happy with Panda Purchasing, the organisation’s branded electronic purchasing system, which has been operating since 2013. “It gives me sight of any changes or increases to contract value. It’s a massive bonus that I’m not scratching around for visibility or access to expenditure. It doesn’t stop the issues that everyone deals with where in a rush we’ve been late getting purchase orders raised – that will contribute to the 20% outside my control. But 80% is acceptable – I’d like it to be closer to 100% but it is probably unrealistic for most organisations.”

Transactional buying is very much devolved around the organisation, with approved buyers in teams to handle purchase orders and contracts. “So, although we are not doing all the procurement, we can get involved when we need. It is about trying to be positive and reactive and be a source of support where we can. The approved buyers have to have been on purchasing procurement training and completed our online training,” says Lowe.

He admits that retrospective purchasing is higher than he would like – around 30% – and he has ramped up the half-hour internal training session he runs with accounts payable to bring that back in line. “We did a major push before Christmas and got about 260 out of 350 staff through the half-hour training.”

Being a small team of three, they flex around the responsibilities, with blurred lines between categories. So while Lowe deals with fundraising and marketing elements, print production and fulfilment, and some of the scientific procurement requirements, procurement manager Sara Muller looks after professional services, which covers agency staffing, legal and professional consulting, IT and digital, and scientific research.

The environmental manager, Lauren Wiseman, is the third team member. Part of her job involves managing suppliers with a key environmental impact, such as print, fulfilment and facilities, where there are a lot of physical goods. She ensures regular reporting, for example, on whether paper supplies are aligned to the stewardship council standard. She monitors carbon reporting across the organisation, based on travel arranged through the travel management supplier. Every team has a carbon budget that cannot be exceeded.

Flights for business travel are a top carbon user, says Lowe, and no trip can be taken by plane if it would take under six hours by train. “We have experts and grant managers who need to visit sites and attend conferences. The carbon budget works like a financial budget and can be exchanged with other departments if need be.”

Other environmental checks include demand management, checking that there is a need for what is being purchased. “Overall, it’s one of the best examples [of environmental monitoring] in an organisation that I’ve come across. It does cause some pain on occasions,” he admits, “but procurement-wise, it is a good example of where environmental aspects match with procurement activities.”

It looks across the organisation to any area that has an environmental impact, such as the online retail operation. “You’re opening yourself up to all the supply chain risks through manufacture of goods overseas. So we have more than 20 different points in our environmental procurement policy, which has been transposed into a new supplier questionnaire used by the retail division. The environmental manager has joint sign-off on new stock and suppliers. It requires good relations, flexibility and give on both sides, but it is a good example of the two teams working together to ‘walk the talk’ of the WWF.”

Animal magic

In the UK, the WWF buys more than 100,000 soft toys a year to give as a gift when someone becomes a WWF Animal Adopter, one of the most successful public fundraising offerings, explains Lowe. “The soft toys cross 14 species, they have been assessed to ensure they are a visually scientific representation of both appearance and stance,” he says. “But a challenge for WWF is to source a soft toy that doesn’t have a significant environmental impact in manufacture, and how it transits to the UK. When it came to reviewing that contract, it was uncomfortable.”

Any large-scale manufacturing of soft toys is unlikely to come from Europe, he says, so you are opening up a range of supply chain issues and challenges. “Could we get some assurance on labour and workforce conditions, some assurance that the material and packaging was maximising use of recovered or recycled materials, and that transit was minimising the environmental impact too?” The solution he found was to test the toys against German eco label standard Blue Angel, which he discovered through the WWF network. “We still buy them from Indonesia, but they will now go through the testing process, and the supplier is committed to making sure that is achieved,” he says. The savings on unit cost through doing the tender has more than funded the cost of doing the testing – which is set to be in the region of around £30,000 for the range of 15 soft toys.

Lowe studied environmental science at university, and came to procurement after working in environmental management systems, developing products and policy for local government. He moved to be able to widen his scope of activity and realised how he could increase his influence through procurement.

“Every contract, process, tender, supplier review is a chance not just to improve commercial outcomes, but to do something to make an environmental improvement. I can be more effective at what I set out to do in my career through having a totally different job. Plus, it’s very enjoyable, you’re working with the whole organisation on totally different types of projects. You get the variety that keeps working life very interesting.” 

Lowe’s work with WWF began with the new building – his task to embed environmental elements into contracts. And the CIPS-award-winning project was based on a similar one he ran to contract facilities management (FM) for Woking Council’s buildings. Almost a decade on, when introducing the new FM process at WWF, Lowe was delighted that the organisation expected him to invest time and effort into ensuring the environmental quality was right in procurement and contracts.

A conversation with a delegate attending a conference in the Visitor Centre introduced Lowe to the Sustainable Facilities Management Index (SFMI), created by Acclaro Advisory, which was used to introduce measurable sustainability to every stage of the process. “It was a non-commercial partnership. I think for Acclaro, it was a chance to expand the profile of the index. For me it was a chance to access data, measurements and expertise and deploy it through our procurement process.”

The contract – eventually awarded to Engie – is worth around £350,000 a year and involves cleaning, maintenance, grounds maintenance, waste management and office services. In the first year alone it removed 4,500 single-use plastic bottles, paid a real living wage, and saved over £20,000.

It also saw the introduction of energy-efficient backpack vacuum cleaners and a chemical-free cleaning service that comes via a tap (locked in a cupboard) that delivers destabilised water, which is decanted into spray bottles and used instead of chemicals to clean the building. Apparently it really works.

Throughout the process, Lowe was aware of the significance of the funds at his disposal: “There is a common thread in the organisation that colleagues appreciate where our funds come from – be that a corporate donation or a child’s pocket money – and that does inspire some good stewardship of funds.”

Bring suppliers on the journey

Lowe said: “As a charity, I think about how I can encourage the supply community to be part of supporting WWF, joining, donating. So, I need to think about how we present WWF in tender documents beyond just the service we’re buying. I was really pleased to see a software support provider donated licencing for a year free of charge as their annual charitable gift. That is worth £15,000, so it is key for me to see if I can court that kind of donation through procurement.

“[Suppliers] can also be doing things to support our campaigns such as Earth Hour and the Wear it Wild fundraising event where you dress up as animals.”

And knowing your suppliers really does pay off here. One recent example was when its brand communications agency, which understands and recognises the WWF focus, recommended trying to meet a new standard for advertising production, monitoring resource, waste and travel management, use of materials. “We decided to trial it for the 2019 Christmas advert. And it was the first to align to the Ad Green sustainable production standard,” he added.

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