What is sustainable procurement?

EmmaBerthold_100.jpgWhat, exactly, is ‘sustainable procurement’? What should purchasers be looking out for and what should product manufacturers do to ensure that their products measure up?

Good Environmental Choice Australia’s (GECA’s) Emma Berthold weighs in on what sustainable procurement really is and what purchasers should be looking out for.

Sustainable procurement is designed to take into account the environmental, social and economic influences 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 out for and what should product manufacturers do to ensure that their products measure 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/services meet said 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 core business values.

Once priorities have been set, it’s a case of identifying the environmental, health and social influences of a purchase, considering the main impact areas over the full lifecycle of the product, from raw material sourcing to disposal.

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

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

Sustainability labels, such as GECA, can fit perfectly into sustainable procurement policies as the sustainability standards have already been established and certifying bodies have done all the work for you in checking whether a product actually meets the 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.

But it’s not just manufacturers who can benefit from the extra credibility that third-party certification can provide; service providers can benefit 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 and above 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 standard 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 to organisations seeking to incorporate sustainability into their procurement policies and practices. The standard has recently been finalised.

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

As organisations place an increasingly high importance on sustainable procurement in general, it’s clear that product manufacturers and service providers would do well to ensure that their products are genuinely sustainable and their claims credible.

Emma Berthold is a Communications Officer at GECA and a Content Producer at The Australian Academy of Science.

INCLEAN Magazine

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