How public procurement can help achieve economic and climate goals

In its first year, Mission from MaRS: Public Procurement helped support the commercialization of sustainable city solutions that can help municipalities reach net zero. Here are some of the lessons learned.

Canada is home to one of the world’s strongest communities of innovators, many of whom have developed and demonstrated technologies that could assist us on the path to net zero. To catalyze their global impact, they need early adopters that can help them build credibility and traction in the marketplace. As the single-largest purchaser of goods and services in the country, with an annual budget of $200 billion, the Canadian public sector has the potential and the resources to demonstrate necessary leadership in adopting cleantech solutions and facilitating the impact we need, at scale.

But because different levels or departments within government bodies often make independent procurement decisions and don’t systematically coordinate with other potential public-sector partners, they can miss out on leveraging the benefits of collaboration to accelerate innovation and share the potential burden of risk. This is especially true for Canadian municipalities, which collectively represent 80 percent of public-sector purchasing power, but individually lack the capital, capacity and resources to take meaningful action.

Moreover, early-stage companies often struggle to access, navigate and win government request for proposal (RFP) processes. There are many reasons for this: public procurement timelines can be long and circuitous; novel technologies may not exactly conform to pre-existing public-sector procurement guidelines, which may need to be updated to reflect the evolving landscape; and the initial capital outlay required to manufacture and/or install innovative solutions may be a deterrent for both suppliers and purchasers.

MaRS acts as a catalyst by helping stakeholders move beyond conversations to action. In 2022, in partnership with the Circular Innovation Council, MaRS launched Mission from MaRS: Public Procurement, which aims to identify and tackle structural and behavioural barriers that impede public-sector cleantech procurement on both the supply and demand sides. To do this, the mission brought together a coalition of subject-matter experts from corporate, government, non-profit and venture organizations to facilitate the adoption of promising climate tech technology at scale.

“It gets challenging trying to implement some of these solutions,” says Sunita Chander, chief of strategy, programs and partnerships at the provincial government agency Supply Ontario. “But we’re excited about that — we’re excited that people are thinking about procurement in a different way.”

Key takeaways:

1. Buy local

To leverage Canada’s homegrown talent and bring it to scale on a short timeline, innovation must be built into purchasing practices, and organizations that are working to procure cleantech require adequate support.

2. Support the innovators

Government funding that incentivizes cleantech purchasing or supports innovation hubs will pay dividends: Beyond helping the planet, scaling these ventures creates jobs and bolsters the economy.

3. Tap into available resources

The solutions that will enable us to achieve our climate targets are ready to be implemented in our communities. Governments can tap into existing networks to find the most promising technologies that meet their needs.


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