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June 15th, 2015

Embracing sustainable procurement


Every purchasing decision we make has an impact on the environment, economy and society – from the energy which our new computer consumes, to the conditions of the workers who made our clothes.

Natural Resources are scarce in comparison to our demands which appear to be unlimited. Every product or service manufactured or utilised is a result of the utilisation of natural resources.

Sustainable procurement from a business stand point is based on a process whereby the organisation buys assets, goods and services, including utilities, in a way that achieves value for money. Procurement’s integral role in a company’s operations makes it the central touch point for all stakeholders, customers, suppliers, subcontractors and service providers to effectively collaborate and build sustainability across the entire supply chain.

These benefits are not limited only to the organisation but also for the environment, society and the economy. It embeds environmental, economic and social criteria into contractual documents with the aim of motivating suppliers to offer more sustainable products and services. Factors taken into consideration in this process includes:

  • Value for money considerations such as price, quality, availability and functionality
  • The entire life cycle of products
  • Environmental aspects : effects on the environment that the assets, supplies and/or services have over the whole lifecycle
  • Social aspects: effects on issues such as poverty eradication, inequality in the distribution of resources, labour conditions, human rights, fair-trade, for instance.

Sustainable procurement is used by both public and private sector organisations to ensure that their purchasing reflects broader goals linked to resource efficiency, climate change, social responsibility and economic resilience. Moreover, consumers are now actively seeking out dealing with businesses who have clear social and ethical principles and practices. While it may be difficult for some firms to decide on allocating costs to the implementation of a sustainable procurement policy the benefits in revenue growth, cost reduction and reducing risk are large.

The advantages of sustainable procurement are that it addresses the use of hazardous substances, raw material usage, management of natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions. It encourage a diverse base of suppliers, promote fair employment practices and ethical sourcing and foster training opportunities and community benefits and create new jobs, new markets and opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises. It results not only in reduced wastage and cost but also meets social, economic and environmental objectives.


While sustainable procurement appears to be relevant to only corporations, we all know that a corporation by and large, is composed of individuals. As such, how do we get individuals, outside of the corporate environment to embrace the tenets of sustainable procurement, and change their behaviour by making purchases which in the longer term would benefit the environment, society, climate change, social responsibility and the like?

Much has been written on sustainable procurement and more often around the theme of “going green.” One word of caution on this: with some of the current approaches used to provoke a change in consumers’ behaviour, we can run the danger of unconsciously creating a fad instead of a true lifestyle change.

Viewed from this angle, one must ask, how do we get there? How do we move sustainable consumption (flip side to procurement) so it becomes embedded into the subconscious of individuals? There is no one path or easy path, however.

When we think of sustainability, it should be evident that it would not succeed without behaviour modification at the consumer level, which could provoke changes at the source or point of manufacture.

Now for a difficult question :Would your purchasing behaviour change, if you considered how an item being purchased will be disposed following usage ?


If consumers reject items or products, which cannot be disposed of in an eco-friendly manner (e.g.: styrofoam containers), these items will not be produced as the manufacturers’ economic survival will see to that. Unless consumers insist and attach a premium (not in dollar sense) to the recycling and disposing of products, manufacturers will have no reason to change how goods are produced.

So sustainable procurement is not to be trivialized,as they drive to the heart of our action as consumers – first our thinking and then our behaviour. Consider for a moment the rationalisation that will now be required whilst shopping at the grocery store when your hand reaches for an item off the shelf.

Often we believe recycling is someone else’s responsibility, but we as consumers, can promote sustainable procurement by implementing simple practices. Like a corporation, it is all about conserving resources, conserving energy, promoting pollution prevention, waste reduction and diversion as well as evaluating value, performance and need.Examples of green procurement range from the purchase of energy-saving light-bulbs to the commissioning of a new building from renewably sourced timber via organic food being served in a workplace canteen. The ultimate green procurement is the avoidance of the purchase altogether.

When we as consumers begin to see the benefits as do corporations in sustainable procurement of goods, then the true circle of sustainability would have been achieved.

Seen in this light, sustainability is not and cannot be the fashion du jour. Sustainability procurement isn’t simply being about ‘green’. It’s about good business practice that focuses on socially and ethical responsible purchasing and delivering economically sound solutions to a business while minimising the environmental impact throughout a supply chain.Best-in-class procurement organizations have accepted the reality that sustainable procurement cannot be ignored and is here to stay.