Larry Berglund—Changing how the world thinks about sustainable procurement
Larry Berglund: Master of Business Administration, 2003
Based in: Surrey, B.C.
For many of us, the words “supply-chain management” may sound more like a sleep aid than a hope-filled pathway to a better world. Larry Berglund, a Vancouver-area consultant, coach and speaker, would disagree.
Overseeing an institution’s supply chain, he says, means making or influencing decisions about all the goods and services it procures—from printer paper to construction materials and personnel for a major building project. If you have an interest in sustainability, that represents a tremendous opportunity to make change.
“Ethical and sustainable procurement is about the principles that we adhere to when are buying anything,” he says. “Particularly in the public sector, we shouldn’t be buying sweatshirts or t-shirts made in sweatshops.” Progressive purchasing can ensure we don’t.
“I was a traditional buyer, less concerned with where goods came from or how they were made. As long as it hit the price point, I would buy it.”– Larry Berglund, MBA '03
Not much about Larry Berglund is typical. A man who didn’t bother with an undergraduate degree, he has worked at the University of British Columbia and taught at the B.C. Institute of Technology and Athabasca University (AU), where he also did his MBA. A municipal worker who started out ordering supplies for the City of Vancouver’s sewers department, he eventually helped write the ethical and sustainable procurement policy that was part of Vancouver’s winning bid to host the Winter Games in 2010. His clients include school boards and mining companies, and his involvement with the Supply Chain Management Association of Canada has, intriguingly, led him to teach workshops on leadership and sustainability to UN peacekeeping staff.
Until about 2003, Berglund took a conventional approach to procurement. He fell into the field in the mid-1970s. Family life prompted him to give up his rock ‘n’ roll aspirations— “everybody was in a band in the late 1960s,” he says—and get a real job.
“My wife and I started with $1 in the bank,” he says.
“It was my first real encounter with the dark side of business. I learned about blood diamonds, about exploitive practices. It raised my consciousness. That MBA made a dim bulb a spotlight.”– Larry Berglund
While at the sewers department, he took courses in purchasing at night. Over the next 2 decades, he handled procurement for Langley Memorial Hospital, a local shipyard, a sawmill logging operator, and a hospital regional group, becoming a “certified professional purchaser” in 1982.
“I was a traditional buyer, less concerned with where goods came from or how they were made. As long as it hit the price point, I would buy it,” he says.
In 2000, he turned 50 and began mapping a more entrepreneurial course. Thanks to years of work experience, he was able to enrol in AU’s MBA program as a mature student. His last course at AU, he says, was on the diamond industry.
“It was my first real encounter with the dark side of business,” he says. “I learned about blood diamonds, about exploitive practices. It raised my consciousness. That MBA made a dim bulb a spotlight.”
This nascent interest sprang to life in his new job as the City of Vancouver’s manager of materials management. Vancouver was crafting its Olympic bid and its mayor, Larry Campbell was emphatic that the Games should leave a positive legacy for the city. The Ethical & Sustainable Purchasing Policy Berglund crafted under his tenure made Vancouver a pioneer among Canadian cities.
Berglund notes that “social procurement” goes beyond environmental sustainability, applying ethical principles to all purchasing decisions. Vancouver became one of Canada’s first municipalities to bring in fair-trade-certified agricultural products and coffee in its facilities. The city required compliance with international labour codes—a growing factor in procurement policies that has required Berglund to beef up on trade agreements and labour and bid law.
Berglund also made it a priority to help people with barriers to unemployment find work. During his tenure the city awarded contracts to companies such as Starworks Packaging and Assembly, which employs skilled people from Vancouver’s downtown eastside struggling with alcohol or substance abuse.
“The idea is to help them regain their self-esteem and a pathway to meaningful employment,” he says.
Berglund’s interest in social enterprise has deepened through his work with companies such as Vancouver’s CleanStart, which has applied the idea of hiring disenfranchised workers to a franchise model not reliant on government subsidies.
“It works, it doesn’t cost anybody any more, and it reduces the burden on society to provide those social services,” Berglund says.
A cycle of give and take is built into Berglund’s view of doing business. He does pro bono work for social enterprises. He has written articles about the “circular economy,” which aims to eliminate waste from the supply chain rather than recycling it later, and authored two self-published books, most recently Good Planets are Hard to Buy.
He continues to coach and teach, and this summer will return to Italy to run a weeklong workshop for UN support staff from troubled spots in the world. Some have many years of experience in the UN. They are accomplished people with extraordinary stories, he says. Knowledge, too, travels in both directions.
“I’m 50% teacher, 50% student,” he says.
Learn more about AU’s MBA program.