December is always an exciting time of year at the Vancouver Convention Centre. With events like the Circle Craft Christmas Market and Vancouver Christmas Market in residence and so many guests coming to attend various holiday celebrations, it’s hard not to feel festive and want to celebrate.

For this winter season, rather than displaying our usual holiday décor, we wanted the facility to better reflect what matters most to us: where we are, the community we are apart of and our commitment to sustainability. Taking that one step further, it was important that the process to create and obtain the new décor echoed those values. Through social procurement we were able to partner with a local social enterprise and artists to repurpose our existing decorations into new ornaments and recycled trees – a perfect fit, and an opportunity to add unique value to the holiday experience at our facility.

Found throughout both our East and West buildings, the hand-carved recycled trees by First Nations artist Christine MacKenzie are made from used shipping pallets leftover from various events. The wood painted ornaments found on the trees feature stunning unique designs by artists with Nations Creations, a social enterprise and artist collective based out of Stó:lō Nation’s Vedder Road site.

Buy Social Canada, a social enterprise that advances and promotes social procurement by bringing socially driven purchasers and social enterprise suppliers together, defines social procurement as “leveraging a social value from your existing procurement.” This approach to acquiring services and goods is a practice that our team has worked to more deeply integrate into our overall operations, and it has been an overwhelming success.

One such partnership is with Binners’ Project, a local organization that advances social and economic inclusion and tackles sustainability issues through empowering and creating opportunities for binners, who now contribute to back-of-house support for our facility’s waste diversion program. Additionally Hives for Humanity, a non-profit organization that works with socially and economically vulnerable people to foster self-worth through skills sharing, maintains the beehives that are situated on our six-acre living roof.

It has also become more common to see event organizers implement social procurement when considering things such as signage and attendee gifts.

For example at Common Thread, a Vancouver-based non-profit society that provides persons with barriers sewing and crafting skills to use towards paid work, they receive requests from organizations to upcycle leftover event materials into delegate tote bags and other products for conferences. Melanie Conn, Executive Director at Common Thread, says this is becoming more common as businesses are eager to add benefit to the community their events take place in.

“In the ten years since we've been around I've seen a big change from mild receptivity to our social enterprise model to active - even avid! - interest in purchasing products that are valuable because they provide meaningful work to residents and makes communities safer and more inclusive.”

Buy Social Canada’s Manager of Communications and Engagement, Tori Williamson, explains that social procurement works so well because it provides an option to turn existing impact into a positive one:

“Social Procurement moves beyond evaluating a purchasing decision on the basis of price and quality to include social value. If you can purchase your catering and cleaning services from an organization that has a core purpose to employ people with barriers or provide training to people living in homelessness, consider this extra type of value and impact that your purchasing choice can make.”

“Every purchase has an economic, environmental and social impact, whether intended or not. Social procurement is about capturing those impacts and seeking to make intentional positive contributions to both the local economy and the overall vibrancy of the community.”

But how can an organization begin to implement social procurement and purchasing? It may seem like a big step, but as Tori explains there are plenty of resources available (and organizations like Buy Social Canada) that can help organizations get paired with the right social enterprise for their need.

“Take a look at what you already purchase and consider if there is a social enterprise that could meet that need. Buy Social Canada has three directories on our website; the certified social enterprise list, the Social Enterprise Construction Directory and the Social Enterprise Gift Directory. We are lucky in Vancouver that there is such a strong social enterprise sector that we can support. There are catering companies, cleaning companies, maintenance companies, cafes, coffee roasters, event spaces, retail stores, delivery companies and many more. Almost all organizations purchase food, gifts and cleaning services in one form or another, why not create positive social impact with those purchases while you’re at it.”

And the best part, Melanie points out, is that social procurement is a win for everyone involved.

“In addition to the opportunity for an organization to 'walk the talk', there's so much joy in seeing people blossom in work settings that respect and accommodate their differences. What we've learned is that economic and social values not only co-exist but create something beautiful and hopeful together.” 

From Buy Social Canada:

Buy Social Canada has released their Downtown Eastside Social Enterprise Impact Report which details the different kinds of impacts that social enterprises in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood have. These include but are not limited to; training and education, housing, support for artists, waste reduction through recycling and upcycling, support for victims of violence, space and resources for indigenous community members, connections with nature and the land, sustainable transportation, reduced hunger, zero-emission cargo delivery, quality dental services, and community art space.

If you would like to learn more about social procurement and how you can incorporate it into your business, contact Tori Williamson with Buy Social Canada at Tori@buysocialcanada.com.