What is sustainable procurement?

GECA's Emma Berthold weighs in on what “sustainable” procurement really is and what purchasers should be looking for.

GECA’s Emma Berthold weighs in on what “sustainable” procurement really is and what purchasers should be looking for. 

Sustainable procurement is designed to take into account the environmental, social and economic impacts of purchased goods and services for a business.

Often such guidance is provided in the form of a policy document which may have been written by, or in consultation with, a procurement professional.

This policy is then used whenever any goods or services need to be purchased for a company, building, organisation, government department – the list goes on.

So what exactly goes into these policies? What, exactly, is “sustainable” procurement? What should purchasers be looking for – and what should product manufacturers do to ensure their product measures up?

Without a background in sustainable purchasing or a solid working knowledge of the surrounding issues, it can be challenging to know what sort of criteria to include in a policy document, or which products and services meet those criteria.

A good sustainable procurement policy will start with the basics. It should identify the organisation’s most important sustainability goals and how these goals align with the core values of the business.

Once the priorities are set, it’s a case of identifying the environmental, health and social impacts of a purchase, considering the main impact areas over the full life cycle of the product, from raw material sourcing to disposal.

Once priorities have been set and a sustainable policy framework has been established, how can professionals choose between multiple products making similar sustainability claims?

Choosing specific and measureable criteria for selecting goods and services can be extremely challenging without the benefit of prior knowledge of exactly what makes a product or service “green” or sustainable in the first place. Once the criteria is established, the second challenge lies in assessing the products that fit these criteria – whether they really live up to their claims and meet those criteria.

Sustainability labels, such as Good Environmental Choice Australia’s (GECA) ecolabel, can fit perfectly into sustainable procurement policies – the sustainability standards have already been established and certifying bodies have done all the work for you in checking whether a product actually meets those criteria.

It makes sense to look to organisations that make sustainable products their business and have their products carry an ecolabel on them. A wide range of cleaning products for a variety of commercial and industrial applications have already been certified with GECA, making it easier for purchasers to source sustainable cleaning solutions.

It’s not just manufacturers who can benefit from the extra credibility that third party certification can provide, but service providers as well.

For service providers who claim to use sustainable products and practices, certification can give their company an extra edge, making it more likely that they will be selected over their competitors.

Unfortunately, for some markets, finding a product or service with certification can be more of a challenge, as only a fraction of products or services might carry an ecolabel.

In these cases, where it may be necessary to find ways to increase the range of choice available, it can be helpful to use criteria from sustainability standards documents to help form the backbone of a procurement policy document.

On a global scale, sustainable procurement will soon become a little easier, with the release of a new International Standard. The ISO20400 International Standard for Sustainable

Procurement is designed to provide guidance for organisations seeking to incorporate sustainability into their procurement policies and practices. The standard has recently been finalised and is due for release around March 2017.

And if you’re wondering whether sustainable procurement is worth it, research from EcoVadis has found that 50 per cent of sustainable procurement leaders increased their revenue from sustainability initiatives – a 33 per cent increase over non-leaders.

As organisations place increasingly high importance on sustainable procurement generally, it’s clear that product manufacturers and service providers would do well to make sure their product is genuinely sustainable and that their claims are credible.

*Emma Berthold is Communications Officer at Good Environmental Choice Australia


This first appeared in INCLEAN magazine.  To subscribe, click here

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