5 steps for more sustainable procurement

So here are a five ways that you can leverage your procurement to contribute to sustainable development.

Sustainable procurement is defined as a “process allowing organisations to meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life-cycle basis; and generates benefits not only to the buying organisation, but also to society and the economy, whilst significantly reducing negative impacts on the environment”.

In other words, sustainable procurement takes account of third-party consequences of procurement decisions, forming a "triple bottom line" of external concerns which the procuring organisation must address.

1. Apply the waste hierarchy to designing your specifications

Start with the top of this inverted pyramid and use this as a guide to revisit the specifications for your purchasing to reduce and/or change the materials that you are consuming as an organisation.

Review your specifications for your regular purchases to ensure that you consider and clearly communicate your preference (or requirement!) such as:

  • reduction of packaging and removal of single use items;
  • reduction or removal composite materials used in products you buy;
  • requirements for reusable items to contain a percentage of recycled content - if this is not widespread in the market, it can be incorporated into an evaluation /award criteria instead;
  • specification for disassembly, widespread recycling and disposal methods

Depending on the category of goods you are purchasing, explicitly aligning the principles of the waste hierarchy and addressing these concerns can have a positive impact across a number of areas of SDG12, SDG13, SDG14, SDG15, not to mention cost savings and innovation opportunities.

2. Specify sustainability, impact and performance expectations

Setting out expectations in terms of how you expect the organisation to operate and treat its partners and suppliers and produce its products - whether it is in terms of ethical behaviour, circularity, environmental impact or supplier payment fairness, or anything else that is important to your organisation. This might be set out in requirements, standard terms and conditions, supplier charter or any other means that would help signal to the suppliers how important they are.

In some cases, you might ask for evidence of compliance by way of certifications and eco-labels or equivalents. Certifications, eco-labelling and standards compliance is often a good way to signal an expectation of a certain standard, as well as benefit from third party assurances of consistency and quality. Using these standards in supplier screening or evaluation helps not only communicate to the supplier what exactly you are looking for, but also gain more comfort of the certainty of the quality and sustainability outcomes.

However, almost 458 eco-labels at the moment, it is important to make sure that if you do choose to use them, you select the ones that are relevant to your product, service or industry; are reliable and trusted; and most importantly, that you understand what they mean and what they do and do not assure. This is why eco-labelling may need to be considered very carefully and the focus should be placed on the impact or performance you are trying to encourage, rather than a label itself.

3. Buy from impact-focussed suppliers:

Sometimes you do not even have to change the way you buy, you just need to change who you buy from! Some organisations have done the hard work of figuring out the problems that they can solve whilst still providing the good and services that businesses need. When you engage the market and invite suppliers to tender, have you considered whether there may be suppliers who offer the same product but in addition can offer additional social value? For example, they offer employment opportunities to vulnerable members of community (shout out to Beco), upskill and support women in impoverished communities (hello, Aduna!) or empower women-owned enterprises (a whole list of those here). Or, perhaps look into the organisation on this list to find a B Corp that offers goods or services you are looking for.

By providing opportunities and a market to the organisations who are tackling social and environmental challenges, you are supporting and amplifying the impact they create whilst satisfying your business requirements.

If you are interested in finding suppliers who can offer not just goods and services you need, but a greater social and environmental impact, or you are a supplier that fits this description, sign up here .

4. Evaluate on a whole-life costing and lifecycle impact

When evaluating the tender submissions, the post contract costs and externalities can often make up a larger proportion of the overall cost and might go unaccounted for. A printer that meets all the functional requirements but is more energy-intensive to run and ends up in a landfill due to absence of take back or recycling facilities, will end up costing you more in terms of money, carbon emissions, waste and potentially fines as the regulations around externalities tighten. Whole-life considerations might differ across categories, so taking this approach at a policy level and developing category level guidance and toolkit in support of decision-making is

In some cases the market might not be able to meet all the requirements, however expressing your preferences (and evidently acting on these!) might not only encourage suppliers to rethink what they are offering, but might spur creation of new business opportunities.

5. Track quantifiable metrics

Procurement does not stop at the contract signature. Sustainable procurement means learning from the process, assessing the performance and incorporating it in the next cycle of procurement activities. Measurement of the performance indicators - across all the 3 domains of triple bottom line - is an important part of the journey towards sustainable development.

Tracking and measuring the triple bottom line can often be tricky however even if you start from a zero, any data will help you make upwards improvements. Variables impacted through your organisational procurement activities may include measurements of access to education and resources, health, equity, social capital, and quality of life.

From environmental perspective energy consumption, amount of waste generated, land use, use of post-consumer and recycled material and GHG emissions can all be measured and tracked.

Start collecting information that you can use to create awareness and promote education among stakeholders, including suppliers; and collectively improve performance. Creating a baseline will support development of targets and allow you to engage your supply chain in working to achieve these. This collaboration is critical, especially for those organisations who have to report on their sustainability performance. Targets settings and year on year comparison is an integral component of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting standards, and procurement process is a mechanism that allows companies to develop and collect the necessary data from supply chains.

Adoption and promotion of sustainable procurement plays an important role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is explicitly addressed in Target 12.7 in SDG12 as well as addressing the environmental and climate challenges that we are facing.  Sustainable procurement - in private or public sectors - helps scale the impact beyond the organisation that holds the budget; and influences the market to change their ways of working. This is the power of procurement, and the larger the buying power of your organisation, the more of a difference you can make.

If you would like to discuss how procurement can help you on your sustainability journey, please get in touch - marina@bemari.co.uk

If you are interested in finding suppliers who can offer not just goods and services you need, but a greater social and environmental impact, or you are a supplier that fits this description, sign up here .

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