Understanding sustainable procurement
Sustainability; sustainable development; sustainable procurement. For many of us, these terms are familiar – but we are not always 100% clear what they mean. Here, we explain what we mean by sustainable procurement, and how it’s built into government policy.
Sustainable procurement is not simply about buying green products – although that is important. It’s also about ensuring energy and resource efficiency as well as long term cost effectivness.
Instead, sustainable procurement involves looking at:
- Environmental concerns like energy emissions and the materials used in manufacture, to things like where a product is coming from and how long its lifecycle is;
- Social criteria, where these can be identified. For example, it can include ethical issues – such as whether organisations provide fair and safe working conditions for their staff;
- Economic factors, saving costs measured across the whole lifecycle of a product and taking account of the real cost of manufacture, supply, usage and disposal of a product.
All these factors illustrate why the Treasury sees sustainable procurement as good procurement.
The challenge for buyers is to balance these factors to ensure they make the best decisions for their organisation. For example:
- If a product is made of wholly recyclable materials but will need to be replaced every year, is it a more sustainable purchase than something that is non-recyclable, but lasts for five years?
- Is it better to buy a more energy-efficient product that will be shipped from a country further away than something that consumes more energy but is manufactured – and can be supported – in a country nearby?
Issues like these are complex and require procurers to make their own decisions according to their own policies and priorities. Government Buying Standards help with the process, by providing reliable information and standards so that buyers can focus on the business decisions rather than technical criteria.
Definition of sustainable procurement
“A process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organisation, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment.”
Sustainable Procurement Task Force
Page last modified: 29 March, 2011