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Creating a Sustainable Procurement Policy

The Ultimate Guide for Any Organsiation

Procurement is an essential aspect of running any organisation, but not necessarily an exciting one. As the saying goes: “What goes in, must come out.” Everything your business needs uses materials and resources that you have to source. If your organisation is working toward becoming more sustainable, having a sustainable procurement policy in place can be a great area to improve.

What is Sustainable Procurement?

Sustainable procurement is the process of obtaining goods and services for your organisation in the best way possible to reduce the overall impact. Organisations should consider the environmental, social, and economic impact of any item purchased. While sustainable procurement can be seen as an additional cost, thoughtful and effective purchasing can often create efficiencies that can save on your bottom line.

In a workplace, sustainable procurement can include everything from physical goods – like paper products and technology for employees plus facility supplies like cleaning products and lightbulbs – to less tangible goods like travel, transport, and even electricity. For large businesses, this can be a significant amount of goods, and switching to more sustainable options can significantly impact the organisation and the environment.

Why does it matter?

Sustainable procurement is an excellent addition to any forward-thinking organisation. Your organisation may have goals such as becoming zero-waste or carbon-neutral and sustainable procurement plays into those. While the internal procurement process is an often forgotten area of sustainability, conducting your business with the same values internally and externally has many benefits. Some benefits of sustainable procurement include:

  • Increasing the value of your products and company:

Customers are continually choosing brands that promote sustainable practices inside and out. By utilising sustainable procurement practices, you are signalling to them that your organisation shares their values.

  • Recruiting and retaining staff:

Employees are eager to work for organisations they view as ethical, so you'll be more likely to retain staff better by practising these values.

  • Being a leader in your industry:

Adopting sustainable practices can help boost your edge over the competition by showing that you are a leader in your industry when running an organisation sustainably.

  • Reducing environmental impact:

Sustainable procurement takes a holistic approach to purchasing decisions within an organisation. By considering the multitude of factors that influence procurement and making the decision with the most negligible impact, you are doing the least harm to the planet.

  • Creating efficiencies:

Sustainability is the balance of three principles – the economy, society, and the environment. To reduce the impact of your purchasing, put into place a re-use economy and cut unnecessary spending. That way you can create efficiencies that benefit the environment and your budget.

What falls under the Sustainable Procurement Category?

Anything you purchase for your organisation's use can fall into this category. This includes:

  • Office furniture – desks, office chairs, kitchen tables, conference room setups, etc.
  • Technology – computers, monitors, mice, keyboards, cables, printers, etc.
  • Office products – stationery, paper goods, envelopes, etc.
  • Cleaning/facility supplies – toilet paper, lightbulbs, paper towels, etc.
  • Food and catering services – milk, coffee, tea, fruit, event meals
  • Transportation and travel – company cars, plane tickets, accommodation
  • It can also include electricity – depending on the organisation
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How to Practice it

No matter the size of your organisation, it's a great idea to have a sustainable procurement policy in place. A sustainable procurement policy may be part of your organisation's more comprehensive environmental policy, or it may be separate.

It should provide clear guidance on when, how, and why purchases are made and how sustainability should factor into those decisions. Even if you work in a smaller organisation that may only have one or two dedicated procurement people, it's a great document to build upon that lays out sustainable procurement principles, showcases preferred suppliers, and lists things to consider when purchasing.

Some procurement policies may go in-depth for each category or leave general principles for procurers to enact when new material goods are needed. What is best for your organisation will depend on the size, the number of people with purchasing power, and how frequently new supplies are bought.

It would be best to focus on a few key elements within your sustainable procurement policy to ensure best practices. It should be a living document that is reviewed and adjusted at least once a year. Some aspects to include are:

Sustainable Procurement Principles

At the top of the policy, you should lay out your organisation's sustainable procurement principles. These are the general goals that your company wants to consider when thinking about purchases. Some ideas include conserving resources, conserving energy, promoting waste reduction, limiting pollution, and product stewardship.

You can then break these ideas down further to lay out what each principle means in practice, whether it's preferring products packaged in cardboard, looking for Energy Star appliances, prioritising buying from B corp companies, or any other specific action.

A Focus on the Three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

In the policy, emphasise the waste hierarchy and why it's important when considering purchases for your organisation. By outlining that people should consider alternatives that already exist before buying new, your organisation will mitigate environmental impact and save money. Additionally, when a purchase is necessary, consider the lifecycle of that product and whether a used product will suffice.

When purchasing technology in particular, consider purchasing monitors and other accessories second-hand. There are many online marketplaces for second-hand office furniture, which is often less expensive than buying new, which is great for your bottom line.

In your policy, include questions that people should contemplate when looking at purchases. Questions to consider may include:

  • Does this item really need to be bought, or is there a suitable alternative within the organisation?
  • What processes were used to create it, and what is the end-of-life process for such a product?
  • What environmental impact will this new purchase have?
  • Where does the supplier stand on sustainability and is there a supplier than may have better environmental policies in place?
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Best Buying Practices

For items that are needed regularly, such as cleaning supplies, toilet paper, or coffee, ensure best buying practices are laid out to avoid unnecessary waste. You can emphasise buying in bulk for consumable products, as it will have less overall packaging and take less carbon to ship than buying multiple smaller products.

Additionally, your procurement policy should specify that quality items that last longer but may cost more upfront, are preferred to cheaper products that may need frequent replacing. Over time, this can save money and helps to promote a more circular economy.

List Preferred Suppliers

It’s vital to list preferred suppliers in any procurement policy, but especially so when it comes to sustainable procurement. Having them listed out makes it simple for people to make the more sustainable purchasing decision, especially if there is no dedicated procurement person.

Evaluate your relationship with current suppliers. You could ask them if they'd be willing to use less packaging or request that products be shipped in reusable or returnable containers. If they aren’t the most sustainable option though, it’s worth exploring alternatives.

When looking at new suppliers, do your research, speak to someone at the company, and ensure their values match yours. Some questions to ask them include:

  • What are your company values?
  • How do you minimise impact through the production process?
  • Do you hold any certifications (B Corp)?
  • What are their company sustainability values?

A Section for Non-Tangible Goods

Your sustainable procurement policy should focus mainly on products, but it may be worth adding a section about travel policies, as these often fall under the procurement umbrella. Travel can include local travel (possibly in a company vehicle) or long-distance business trips if your organisation requires it. If your business has a lot of travel, you may already have a travel policy in place. For a great example of how sustainability plays into that, check out The University of Edinburgh’s Sustainable Travel Policy.

Travel has a significant impact on the environment, so consider the options that have the least impact in terms of sustainability. Are long-distance business trips vital, or will video meetings suffice most of the time? When they are necessary, how can you minimise the impact? Can stay in hotels that promote sustainability, are within walking distance from the event, or choose electric vehicles for renting? This is where having a preferred supplier list will help, as you can also list chains of car rental companies and hotels that may have better sustainable values than others.

Non-tangible goods may also include things like energy procurement. This may not apply to smaller organisations that are tenants in large buildings. Still, if you work in a large corporate enterprise or educational institution with self-owned campuses, electricity may be included in procurement practices. While you may not be able to source power from solar panels, like Apple’s new headquarters, you can choose utility companies that may offer the best options for sustainable energy, which is especially important if you’re working towards a goal of carbon neutrality.

How Having a Sustainable Procurement Policy Benefits your Business

While practising sustainable procurement can help your organisation in the way it appears to customers, stakeholders, and competitors, it also offers many tangible benefits.

For one, it can decrease your overall business costs. Buying quality items that last longer or items purchased in bulk tend to be cheaper in the long run, which can help your bottom line. Less money spent on procurement means more money spent on developing, marketing, or selling, which can help you increase your revenue.

Additionally, high-quality items that break less can mean fewer IT, plumbing, and electric call-outs, saving you money over time. Taking the time to draft up a straightforward sustainable procurement policy will take the guesswork out of it, and ensure you are making the best decisions that have the least impact on the world around you.

Increasingly, we are voting with our wallets as individuals and organisations. However, organisations have significantly higher purchasing power than individuals, which can have a far greater impact. No matter the size of your business, an effective sustainable procurement process can help support the environment, your business, and the community.

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