Three strategies for a successful sustainable procurement policy

Fresh Green Clean's Bridget Gardner's three strategies for a successful sustainable procurement policy.

By Bridget Gardner*

In February China suspended work on 104 coal-fired plants that were either approved or under construction. Why? Partly to curb overcapacity, and partly to limit its fossil-fuel consumption and carbon emissions to meet its Paris Agreement pledge. But there is another reason – smog.

From Shanghai to Beijing, smog has been blanketing Chinese cities, forcing factories, schools and some airports to close.

Bad air is estimated to contribute to roughly 17 per cent of all deaths in China and according to the World Health Organisation, the main culprit is burning coal for energy.

Dealing with China’s energy problem is a great example of how sustainable procurement needs to keep three key considerations in balance: financial, environmental and social.

Whether you are making, selling or buying cleaning goods and services, a purchasing plan that incorporates this ‘triple bottom line’ approach can make good business sense. Here are three strategies to get the best outcome from your sustainable procurement policy.

Sustainable supply – not supplier

An FM company recently surveyed its tenants to find out how important it was that they procured sustainable cleaning services, and 80 per cent agreed it was. The company then asked whether they were willing to pay more – and no surprises – the response was no.

But the FM firm asked the wrong question. The tenants were right to expect that service companies would be operating as sustainably and resource efficiently as possible, so why should that come at a premium?

Had the survey question focused on tangible benefits to occupants such as healthier air and cleaner surfaces, or sustainable outcomes such as water, waste or energy savings, many tenants may have seen the added value as an investment, rather than a new supplier cost.

Likewise sustainable procurement plans should stipulate the outcomes that a product or service must deliver, and how that can be demonstrated and measured, rather than relying on the supplier’s internal business practices and certifications.

Supply chain management

The supply chain describes the steps involved in getting a product or service to the customer. A sustainable supply chain reduces water, energy, pollution and waste throughout that process.

When manufacturers and retailers work with their supply chain to innovate and operate more sustainably, instead of simply pressuring for discounts, they can lower the cost of production, packaging and distribution.

The stronger the relationship, the more willingness there is to find efficiencies and innovations and pass them on to all players in the chain.

But taking such a global view can be pretty daunting for the average customer or small supplier, especially when much of the supply chain is hidden and/or overseas.

Fortunately there are Standards and certifying bodies that have done the research for us. Because the criteria varies widely, it is recommended that you review the Standards to be sure they meet your sustainable Procurement objectives.

It is also important to list the Standard precisely, check that the label is printed on the packaging, and avoid vague terms such as ‘environmentally-friendly’, ‘green’ or ‘natural’.

Many ‘eco-label’ Standards are called ‘multi-attribute’, meaning their criteria covers multiple environmental risks and issues, applicable to various stages of the supply chain. Examples of Australian eco-label Standards to be included in a sustainable cleaning purchasing checklist are:

GECA CPv2.2-2012 Cleaning Products Multi-criteria for commercial and consumer cleaning products
Global GreenTag® Cleaning Products Standard V. R1.0 Multi-criteria for the life cycle analysis of commercial cleaning products and equipment
Recognised® by ACCORD Multi-criteria for commercial cleaning products
SPPv3.0-2015 Sanitary Paper Products Multi-criteria for paper washroom consumables

Environmental Standards that focus on a single issues, may be relevant to a specific aspect of the product, such as an ingredient, the packaging or the energy used during manufacturing. Below are just a few examples:

FSC 100% – Product from Well-Managed Forests Criteria for the sustainability of the wood pulp used in paper washroom products
Australian Standard AS4351 for Ready Biodegradability Criteria for testing either the full-formula (The whole product meets criteria AS4351) or just the surfactant (detergent) component of a product
RSPO – Responsible Production of Sustainable Palm Oil Criteria for the sustainability of the palm oil plantations used in detergents
Certified GreenPower Products Renewable energy provided by electricity retailers. (This Certificate does NOT apply to cleaning products manufactured using GreenPower)

Full cost benefits analysis

The third strategy for success is to identify and measure the full costs and benefits. Upfront cost of innovative technologies can be higher than traditional methods and deter the purchase.

Tracking and analysing all associated costs and savings over time and between different aspects of the company, can paint a very different story. Some aspects to consider are:

  • The cost and frequency of consumables, replacement parts and maintenance requests
  • Resource savings via controlled dispensing equipment, reusable tools or mechanical efficiencies
  • The reduction in distribution/delivery/packaging costs
  • The reduction in the risk or number of slips and falls and other WorkCover claims
  • The number of contracts – and quality staff – that have been won or retained as a result.

A final area of sustainable procurement that is gaining traction, is on-selling of materials to other industries that can recycle or reuse it – thus closing the loop. Because when it comes to business, if it isn’t profitable, it will not be sustainable.

*Bridget Gardner is Director of Fresh Green Clean. She can be contacted on or

This first appeared in the March/April issue of INCLEAN magazine.

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