Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

How to make your buying more sustainable

Making your buying more sustainable

You can improve your purchasing practices and take action to address cost, environmental and social issues at all stages of your procurement process.

Review what your business buys

You should analyse what goods and services your business buys. You can use this information to prioritise key areas within your business where you could be purchasing more sustainably.

You could prioritise the goods or services that cost you the most or those with the highest environmental or social impact.

Gathering this information before you start sustainable procurement will help you to:

  • cut whole life costs by identifying ways to improve your efficiency and reduce your consumption
  • identify where and how much you spend on what items
  • confirm which parts of your business buy products and services
  • set targets to buy more sustainably
  • develop a step-by-step plan to improve your purchasing.

Understand your sustainability risks and impacts

You should assess the sustainability risks of each purchase or contract over its life cycle. This will help you identify what you can do to minimise the environmental and social risks of your purchases.

It is good practice to use a risk-based approach. This means you should identify which of the sustainability impacts of the purchase have the highest risk and what you will need to do to remove or reduce these when making your purchase.

Assess the whole life costs

Consider all costs linked with your purchase (known as whole life costs), including raw materials, manufacture, maintenance and disposal, not just the cost of buying it.

This can help you to decide if it is better to buy a more expensive product or service initially to reduce costs in the longer term. Sustainable products may last longer, use less energy, water and materials, and produce less waste. They may also cost you less to dispose of at the end of their life.

Use environmental and social criteria

Include environmental and social measures in your purchasing process. You can include this as part of your supplier selection or pre-qualification. 

You may choose to specify minimum environmental and social requirements, such as:

  • how a product is produced or manufactured or how a service is delivered, eg it is organic, uses an environmentally friendly process, uses a local supplier for a catering service, or products aren't transported long distances
  • a physical characteristic of a product or service, eg it contains a minimum recycled content, does not use hazardous materials like lead or mercury, is reusable not disposable, or only uses reusable or recyclable packaging
  • a minimum level of performance, eg it meets a required standard for energy or water efficiency, meets a certified standard like ISO 14001 or SA 8000, or the product must last for a minimum length of time.

You may be able to buy a product or service with an environmental label or ecolabel which meets your minimum requirements. An environmental label shows that a product or service is produced with less impact on the environment. See the page in this guideline: Buying products and services with environmental labels.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has also developed minimum specifications for government buying standards for a range of products including IT equipment, white goods and paper.

Defra: Standards for sustainable procurement

Manage contracts and suppliers

When evaluating tenders and awarding a contract, check that a supplier meets your environmental or social requirements. Monitor and review your contracts and suppliers to check they deliver the environmental and social performance you require.

You could include your sustainable procurement process in your environmental management system (EMS) if you have one. For more information about EMS, see our guideline: Environmental management systems (EMS) and environmental reports

If you don't have a formal EMS you could develop a sustainable purchasing policy that is supported by senior managers in your business.

Tell your suppliers and staff about your sustainable procurement objectives and processes and encourage them to buy or deliver products and services that improve your environmental and social purchasing.

Ask your supplier how you could meet your needs more sustainably, and work with them to develop innovative solutions.

Tools and guidance on sustainable procurement

There are several toolkits and guidance you can use to help introduce sustainable procurement in your business. See the page in this guideline on "Environmentally friendly products and services further information"

In this Guideline

Benefits of buying sustainable goods and services

Avoiding unnecessary purchases

How to make your buying more sustainable

Buying products and services with environmental labels

Top tips for buying key goods and services sustainably

Selecting a sustainable supplier

Environmentally friendly products and services - further information

Things to consider when buying goods or services for your business

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