11th October 2021

The UK is soon to be in the spotlight as we play host to the 26th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP26 for short – taking place in November.  The steer of the discussions is very much on holistic societal and governmental change with measurable targets that will deliver real impact. As integral parts of values-based organisations working with today’s youth, university procurement functions are important to achieving COP26-agreed goals.

Here, as part of a series of posts looking at COP26 and what it could mean for procurement, SUPC Head of Category Management Services Jayne Thorn outlines some of the pre-COP26 events, the role of the youth voice, and why it all matters to procurement professionals.  

Listening to the Student Voice: Responding to the Demands of Generation Z

Gen Z includes anyone born between 1997 and 2012 (currently aged between 9 – 24).  And in the UK in 2018/19 (the most recent year for which HESA has published its data), there were 2.39m students (Gen Z and beyond) studying at UK institutions [1].  Gen Z members are politically progressive, diverse, digital natives who demand (and need) to be heard. COP26 includes two youth events, made up of young people aged 15-29. This is a generation whose lives have been shaped by social media and can share messages and promote activism with speed. The ‘school strike for climate’ started by Greta Thunberg in August 2018, for example, had gained such momentum so quickly that a worldwide strike supported by other young people her age led to a school walk-out of an estimated 1.4million pupils across 128 countries in April 2019. 

As values-based organisations, universities are increasingly looking to integrate sustainability, in the broadest sense, within their organisational identities.  Our sister division, SUMS Consulting, has recently worked with one university that now includes sustainability within its core strategy and uses it as part of its brand positioning.  A commitment to sustainability is no longer something that can sit on the fringe or a university’s or procurement department’s policy – it must be an integral piece of any strategy or plan.   

Students can be great and vocal advocates for positive action by their university, but equally, will bring poor performance into sharp relief through social and other media.  The supply chains and sourcing of goods and services used by students is under regular scrutiny.  SUPC, for example, has been contacted in recent years by active students’ unions seeking to understand how our procurement process guards against labour abuses and the reliance on single-use plastics.  Prudently, we’ve been in a position to talk about the tender questions and evaluation practices that ensure we address these issues, along with the weighting that individual members can use to further emphasise the sustainability element within their call-offs.  

The UK government is promoting its intended actions under the tag line of ‘coal, cars, cash, and trees.’ Whether institutions go along with these goals or set their own, it is essential that action is swift, and messaging is proactive.  Universities will need to demonstrate and communicate that they have already made changes and that there are more changes coming.  Students will want to know how quickly universities can meet the carbon-neutral goals, for example. While no one should be greenwashing to highlight their achievements, the message should be clear: institutions, supported by procurement, are acting on climate change – and you need to be able to show how.

Here are just some of the questions Procurement Departments will need to be able to answer from an increasingly demanding student body:

  • How are your tenders taking climate change into account?
  • How is procurement measuring the carbon output from supply chains?
  • How are you going to achieve Net Zero?
  • Do you have any plans to implement a circular economy?
  • Where are you buying your energy from (is renewable energy part of your portfolio)?
  • Are your buildings properly insulated? Are you making any adjustments to your heating schedules?
  • Are all your fleet vehicles electric?
  • Have you signed the People & Planet, ‘Fossil Free Declaration’?
  • Are you working towards de-carbonisation in the supply chain?
  • Has your institution got sufficient EV charging points if even 10% of the cars arriving on campus daily switched to electric overnight? (There are approximately 42,000 EV charging points in the UK and in 2030 when petrol and diesel cars will no longer be sold new, it is estimated the UK will have 10 times that amount.)

Upcoming COP26 Events and the Emphasis on Youth

The Youth Voice is playing a central part in the COP26 activities.  The following events are taking place in the run-up to COP26, with several having a particular focus on the youth voice.  Prudent procurement departments will keep a close eye on what comes out of these events.

September 28th to 30th: ‘Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition’.

This first event takes place in Milan and will host approximately 400 young people from ages 15 – 29 with the purpose of addressing the main priorities of climate change. The youth delegates will form four working parties: youth driving ambition, sustainable recovery, non-state actors’ engagement, and climate-conscious society.  A declaration between the youth delegates and Ministers attending Pre-COP.

September 30th to October 2nd: Pre-COP

Taking place in Milan, this event brings together a select group of approximately 40-50 countries’ Climate and Energy Ministers to discuss some key aspects and look at some of the key negotiation points to be addressed at COP26. These ministers are representatives of the UNFCCC Secretariat, and a number of other stakeholders both from the UN and civil society who play a part in the fight against climate change and a transition towards sustainable development.

This is the final opportunity for ministers to change the negotiations ahead of COP26 in November.

October 28th to 31st : The 16th Conference of Youth (COY16) – the UN’s official youth event for COP26.

Hang on, didn’t the youth population already have a meeting in Milan last month? Yes, they did. That was their Pre-COP meeting. This event gives young people a voice in the negotiations, as well as networking and skill-building. It operates under the YOUNGO banner, the youth group of the UNFCCC.  

Event output: A ‘Statement of Youth’ which on behalf of all the young people at COP, sets out their hopes and ambitions for the climate negotiations.

October 31st to November 12th: UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties

The main event. Expect world leaders from nearly 200 countries, ministers, negotiators, government representatives, businesses and ‘citizens’. Most people believe that this is no longer another summit, with another group of world leaders, but most now believe that COP26 needs to address climate change with an urgency never seen before. This event is hosted in Glasgow, with the UK taking on the role of ‘President’.

It is widely acknowledged that the Paris Climate Agreement didn’t go far enough, quickly enough. And the pandemic didn’t help when it came to reassessing Paris Climate Agreement goals and progress made against them.   World leaders are now pledging $100bn to help developing countries move away from fossil fuels which goes some way to show that money needs to be spent, but it needs to be spent in the right way, and procurement will be essential in this respect. As Greta Thunberg declares, the time for slogans and ‘blah, blah, blah’ promises is over.  The rallying cry by Greta and her peers will require evidence of response and action from all departments across universities.  

For universities seeking to learn more about effective decarbonisation and protection against supply chain abuses, the SUPC & LUPC annual Responsible Procurement on November 10th will feature a session from the Environment Agency about all things carbon and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab about a Slavery Free Campus (you can book here).

Many universities are already making great strides when it comes to implementing responsible procurement initiatives and engaging with their students as part of the process.  For those that are yet to do so, the heat is on to demonstrate how your procurement function is responding to the change demanded by your students as part of COP26 and how you can proactively and effectively communicate this.   My next post will look at the outcomes of Youth4Climate and Pre-Cop to understand how the agreed negotiations will impact institutions – stay tuned!

SUPC is well-positioned to help members develop their focus on responsible procurement through our frameworks and additional support and guidance.  If you would like support in this area, contact Jayne Thorn.

[1] Universities UK (accessed on 29/09/2021):