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Tools to Help You with Sustainable Procurement

Everyone is talking about a 'closed loop' and 'circular economy' - code for sustainable resource management that minimises the risks associated with material scarcity, reduces carbon emissions and moves towards a more sustainable world in which we are living within our means.

Businesses, organisations and administrations that embrace the move towards the circular economy will find themselves better prepared for our uncertain future, one where materials that we previously took for granted become increasingly scarce or prohibitively expensive.

City authorities have huge budgets and are responsible for a massive amount of procurement. A responsible and sustainable procurement policy has influence way down the supply chain, encouraging suppliers themselves to become more ethical, transparent, efficient and environmentally sustainable.

The European Union defines green public procurement as follows: "a process whereby public authorities seek to procure goods, services and works with a reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle when compared to goods, services and works with the same primary function that would otherwise be procured."

A successful green procurement policy achieves different objectives at the same time. For example:

  • By purchasing less polluting buses, you can buy public transport and clean air;
  • By purchasing renewables, you buy electricity and reduce CO2 emissions;
  • By purchasing organic produce, you buy food and reduce pollution and improve animal welfare.

Help in formulating such a responsible procurement policy comes from many sources (see below). A policy of this kind helps to assess and reduce the environmental, social and economic risks associated with the supply chain, providing an independent audit and certification to measure the sustainability of a body's procurement policy and practice, and make sure that they are embedded across the organisation, all factors in success.

Key to the process is an expenditure analysis of products and services, with an assessment of the level of responsibility associated with the procurement and supply chain performance. This results in an audit report, recommendations for improvement and the suggestion of workshops to share ideas and provide training and support for employees.

Scotland's sustainable procurement strategy

Scotland's sustainable procurement strategy.

Benefits of doing this include:

  • a better understanding of the social, environmental and financial risks associated with products and services purchased;
  • support for reducing the risks associated with regulation, material supply scarcity, customer requirements and levels of efficiency;
  • identifying and making cost savings;
  • identify and reducing environmental and social impacts;
  • objective recognition of good performance through the awards of Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze certificates;
  • establishing a baseline and a program for continual process improvement the regular assessment;
  • templates to help engage with suppliers and internal financial and procurement teams.


There are various international and British standards which support this kind methodology, for example British Standard guidance BS 8903 and the ISO 14001 standard.

The ISO 14000 environmental management standards

The ISO 14000 family addresses various aspects of environmental management. It provides practical tools for companies and organizations looking to identify and control their environmental impact and constantly improve their environmental performance. ISO 14001:2004 and ISO 14004:2004 focus on environmental management systems. The other standards in the family focus on specific environmental aspects such as life cycle analysis, communication and auditing.

ISO 14001:2004 sets out the criteria for an environmental management system and can be certified to. It does not state requirements for environmental performance, but maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective environmental management system. It can be used by any organization regardless of its activity or sector. Using ISO 14001:2004 can provide assurance to company management and employees as well as external stakeholders that environmental impact is being measured and improved.

BS 8903 

BS 8903 provides another comprehensive framework to help management with sustainable and economic development, but specifically for sustainable procurement. By following these guidelines, you can implement sustainable procurement processes across all supply chains. It also helps you put the correct measures in place to test sustainability.

It is equally applicable to the private and public sector. It works by providing a clear set of guidelines, enabling procurement officers to make best-practice decisions when buying goods, works or services, whatever the area of commerce. It also helps with setting responsible conditions of employment, contracting and risk analysis. Other recommendations include environmental management and consumer-supplier relations.

If you are in the public sector, and situated within the European Union, you should also comply with the EU Procurement Directives.

Legislation and advice from the European Commission

The EC provides both legislation and advice on sustainable procurement, including a handbook on environmental public procurement and training Toolkit for employees. There are particular guidelines for energy, energy efficiency and transport.

A green procurement website proclaims news of various events including open days. At these events examples of good practice are shared. At the last event the cities of Vienna, Ghent and Koprivnica/Croatia) were showcased.

The case of Vienna

Vienna, a city with 1.8 million inhabitants, has a purchasing budget of €5 billion per year for products such as vehicles, food and building supplies, and services such as cleaning, maintenance, etc. In setting up a green procurement policy it wanted to boost the production and trade of green products and make long-term savings on its budget.

It found that there were synergies with other programs as well as its aim to become a role model for the public. Tto achieve its aim it set up working groups in different sectors, such as: cleaning, disinfection, paper, and electrical devices, transportation, maintenance, food, etc. bringing in external experts as required.

Following a series of trials, a list of criteria and technical specifications was drawn up. Posters, folders, brochures and videos as well as a dedicated website were set up. The goals varied according to the sector; for example, for the building and construction sector they were as follows:

1. accounting to energy efficiency criteria concerning construction and building
2. integration of life cycle cost accounting on all investment decisions
3. providing for flexibility of use and subsequent expandability of the building
4. creating good working conditions for the staff
5. creating a high degree of identification of the staff
6. planning and implementing efficient lighting concepts
7. implementing an efficient management and logistics concept
8. ensuring short routing for all processes.

The project also included criteria relating to indoor air quality, found to be a strong factor for those working in the public sector indoors affecting their health and performance:

6: Thermal comfort
7: Indoor air quality
11: Ensuring the impact of users
21: Minimising overall energy demand
22: Facilitating energy management
27: Complying ecological building standards.

Procurement of products and services had to comply with these criteria, of which there were 31 in total.

Purchasing criteria are largely based on existing standards such as eco-labels, such as Energy Star for IT equipment. There are two levels of criteria, core and comprehensive. The former addresses the key environmental impacts and are designed to be used with minimum additional verification effort or cost increases. The latter are designed to help with the purchase of the best environmental products available on the market and might require additional verification efforts or a slight increase in cost compared to other products with the same functionality.

Sustainable procurement in Europe: the leaders

The latest research, from 2011, shows that over 50% of public authorities in the European Union were doing some kind of green procurement. The Netherlands lead with 99.8% of public procurement at national level being green, and at the provincial level a staggering 96% was green, while at the level of municipalities 86-90% of procurement was green.

The top five performing countries in the EU applied green procurement practices in between 40% and 60% of cases. Besides the Netherlands they were: Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and the UK.

Further resources
Plenty of examples and case studies are on the Green Public Procurement website. 

There's also a Buy Smart+ service, which has 15 green procurement helpdesks providing know-how, tools consultation and trainings in the main national languages, assistance for green procurement pilot projects and monitoring of green procurement experiences. It will be making policy recommendations for updates in June 2014. Enquiries can be made at: [email protected], Tel.: +49 30 293330 - 63.

Procura+, supported by the ICLEI, is another initiative designed to offer direct support to public authorities in implementing sustainable procurement, facilitate exchange and promote achievements internationally. There are eight networks of European Public Procurers for innovation, covering the following fields:

  1. Combating climate change: Innobuild (Lyngdal Kommune (NO))
  2. Improving care for senior citizens/active aging: EcoQuip (Business Innovation and Skills (UK)), Happi (Réseau achats hospitaliers d'Ile de France (Paris, FR))
  3. Fostering energy efficiency: Pro-LIGHT (Transport for London, UK, city of Bremen DE), Fired-up (London Fire Brigade, UK), Spea (Barcelona city, SP) 
  4. Supplying better mobility infrastructure: Syncro (Conseil Général de l'Isère (Grenoble, FR))
  5. Creating more healthy working conditions: Innobuster (Austrian central purchasing authority AT)).

The Innovation Procurement Forum is also led by the ICLEI, the European platform of sustainable cities, at Freiburg in Breisgau, DE (contact: [email protected]). Its program of activities for 2012 – 2016 includes:

  1. Development of an innovation procurement database
  2. Maintenance and development of a European user-friendly and interactive website (+900 members) & of a forum  
  3. Representing the European Innovation Procurement Community
  4. Development of personal exchange and joint training activities on PCP and PPI
  5. Drafting and compilation of guidelines on innovation procurement 
  6. European award for the best innovation procurements.

Public Procurement of Innovation Award

This Public Procurement of Innovation Award aims to recognise successful public procurement practices that have been used to purchase innovative, more effective and efficient products or services. The award is open to applicants from national, regional and local public authorities. Unfortunately the deadline was the end of March. The winner will be selected in May 2014.

Presentation will be made at the EcoProcura 2014 conference to be held in Ghent, Belgium, in September. The conference series is the only European-wide forum to promote exchange and dialogue amongst purchasers from all levels of governments, suppliers, policy-makers and multipliers on strategies and the latest practical solutions on SPP. Each event now attracts 250 - 350 participants.