Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland
Every product or service your business buys has an impact on the environment. Sustainable purchasing is an approach to buying which can help you to reduce the impact of the goods and services you buy on the environment, human health and social conditions. This means making better choices about what you buy, how often and who you buy from, which could help you save money.
A product or service has environmental impacts throughout its life cycle from the raw materials and energy used to manufacture or supply it, to the way it is recycled or managed at the end of its life. Your purchases may also have social impacts, for example if you buy goods or services from organisations that have poor working conditions or pay a low wage.
This guide will help you make informed and sustainable choices when buying goods and services. It explains the benefits of sustainable procurement, how to buy goods and services sustainably and avoid unnecessary purchases. It also covers using environmental labels and how to select sustainable suppliers.
Relevant Business Topics:
There's no legal requirement for you to purchase sustainably, or to buy sustainable goods and services, but it could help you to:
Sustainable procurement can help your business to:
By buying sustainable goods and services you can:
By considering if you need to buy a particular product or service you can reduce your impact on the environment, save money and resources, and reduce waste and pollution.
If you assess your need to buy a product or service you may decide you don't need to make a purchase.
Before making a purchase, consider if you could cut down how much you buy, for example you could:
Once you have assessed whether you need to buy a product or service, you can start to consider how you can do this more sustainably.
You can improve your purchasing practices and take action to address cost, environmental and social issues at all stages of your procurement process.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
There are several toolkits and guidance you can use to help introduce sustainable procurement in your business. See the page in this guideline on Buying sustainable goods and services further information
An environmental label shows that a product or service is produced with less impact on the environment. Environmental or green labels can help you make informed choices about the products or services you buy.
Not all labelling schemes set the same standards or use an independent process to verify their standards are met. For example, a product or service with an ecolabel - a type of environmental label - must meet certain environmental standards.
Some labels only focus on one environmental aspect, for example the Energy Star labelling scheme for energy efficiency. Others, like ecolabels, consider the life cycle impacts of a product or service, including the materials and resources used, and the waste created to make, use and dispose of it.
You should check what a label covers before purchasing your product or service, for example the focus of the label could be:
Environmental labels can cover a range of products, services or issues including:
To help you identify if a label is acceptable you should check the:
The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) describes three types of system for environmental labelling. Unlike some other green labels or claim statements, only ISO Type I labels, eg the EU Ecolabel, certify that a product or service meets a strict environmental standard based on life cycle assessment. The standard is set and monitored by an independent process.
You should check the claims made by an environmental label before you buy a product or service.
Buy products or services which use a label with appropriate environmental standards and which is awarded by an independent body, for example from an ISO Type I labelling scheme.
First, assess what types of items and services your business buys and choose which groups to focus on to reduce their environmental and social impact. Key groups could include:
The following top tips could help you make your buying more sustainable.
Reduce your energy use and use energy more efficiently. This is the best way to reduce your carbon emissions. See our guideline: Energy efficiency
You can consider installing a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system when renewing boilers.
You can use or generate energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power, instead of fossil fuels.
Choose energy-efficient IT equipment such as desktop PCs, laptops, monitors, printers and photocopiers to reduce your energy use and save you money.
Consider energy use throughout the life cycle of electrical equipment. Use environmental label criteria like the Energy Star labelling scheme for energy efficiency or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) government buying standards to help you set minimum environmental standards and buy the best performing equipment.
Reduce your consumption, eg buy less and make what you buy last longer by reusing or redistributing within your business.
Deal with old equipment correctly. Your supplier is usually required to take back waste electrical and electronic equipment free of charge.
Use technology that uses fewer resources, eg centrally managed computer systems such as thin client systems. These use less energy and should last twice as long as a normal desktop PC.
Buy a greener vehicle or use public transport if possible to reduce carbon emissions and help tackle climate change. Choose models and engines with low CO2 emissions and high fuel efficiency. Car travel creates more CO2 emissions than any other form of transport in the UK.
Invest in green and ethically sound financial products. Socially responsible investment can have a positive impact on the environment and society and build your business reputation.
Ask your financial adviser about green or ethical investment options, eg investment funds, pension schemes and savings accounts.
Make investments that fit with your own sustainability aims, eg reducing carbon emissions, improving wages and working conditions through your supply chain.
Consider using ethical screening to:
Use green construction materials and components to improve the environmental impact of your premises. You can use green specifications during design, construction or refurbishment.
Set minimum requirements for the environmental performance of your key building materials across their life cycle.
Buy products with ecolabels or environmental labels, for example Forest Stewardship Council certified timber products - see the page in this guideline: Buying products and services with environmental labels.
Use reclaimed materials, for example bricks and tiles, solvent-free alternatives for glues and sealants, and locally produced materials, where possible.
Build or renovate to a sustainable building standard such as the Building and Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).
Using a supplier who can meet your standards for environmental and social issues can help you reduce your impacts through your supply chain.
You may decide to reward a supplier who can exceed your requirements and provide a more sustainable product or service.
You can evaluate the environmental and social performance of a supplier before you award a contract to them for goods and/or services. This is called pre-qualification.
You may choose to use a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) to check that a supplier can meet your standards for environmental and social issues. You may want to consider:
You can work with your suppliers to help them develop and improve their own environmental and social performance.
For example, you could:
You could look at sustainability considerations in your supply chain more formally.
There are several organisations that provide guidance and toolkits you can use to help introduce sustainable procurement in your business. They can help you to work out your priorities, assess environmental and social impacts and identify how to reduce your impact.
WRAP Northern Ireland (Waste & Resources Action Programme) is a government organisation that aims to reduce waste and resource use across supply chains.
Zero Waste Scotland is a government organisation that aims to reduce waste and resource use across supply chains.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the government department responsible for environmental policy, including encouraging sustainable procurement.
For other sources of information, you can access the following websites:
Guidance and toolkits designed for public sector organisations may also help you to consider social and environmental factors in your purchasing decisions.
Primary processes, eg natural resources or raw materials
What raw materials are used, eg are they renewable?
Could the extraction or processing of the materials cause air, land or water pollution?
Could extraction or processing produce waste?
Secondary processes, eg manufacture
What resources are used during manufacture, eg energy and water?
Could the manufacturing process cause air, land or water pollution?
Does the process meet relevant legal requirements?
Will the process or product meet the requirements of an environmental standard or ecolabel?
Are hazardous materials used?
How much packaging is used?
Does the process produce waste?
Does the manufacturer have good working conditions and pay a fair wage?
Tertiary processes, eg distribution
Where will your products or services come from, eg what distance will they have to travel?
How will a product get to you, eg air, rail or road?
How will goods be stored, eg will they need cold stores?
What resources will be used during use and maintenance, eg energy, water, hazardous materials?
Will the product need to be handled carefully, eg could it cause air, land or water pollution?
Does the product have a limited shelf life, eg could it go out of date and need to be disposed of before you use it?
How easy will it be to get the product repaired if all or part of it stops working?
Will staff need training to use the product or service efficiently?
Will using it produce waste?
Will equality or diversity issues affect service delivery, eg does the service meet the needs of different users and those with different cultural backgrounds?
Could staff providing a service be exploited, eg low pay, antisocial hours?
End of life
How will you dispose of it?
Do you have to follow any legal requirements to use, store or dispose of it?
How long will it last?
Can it be reused, remanufactured or recycled?
Will it produce hazardous waste?
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has published a short guide to the duty of care responsibilities including advice and information for waste producers, carriers and those accepting, storing and treating waste.
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