Purchasing is an area where your business can put its values into action. Buying greener paper and more energy efficient lighting and equipment, and substituting non-toxic cleaners demonstrates to your employees and customers that you are walking your talk. Green purchasing is where you identify your environmental priorities and require your suppliers and the products and services you buy to reflect them. With green purchasing you are basically concerned with two aspects: the environmental properties of the product and how it was manufactured and the environmental practices of the firm that produces, distributes or leases the product or service. (See Ethical and Social Purchasing for a discussion of the social dimension of procurement.)
Questions to Ask Before Purchasing a Product
- Can we do without it?
- Can we borrow it, rent or get it gently used?
- Can it be smaller, lighter or made from fewer materials?
- Is it energy efficient?
- Does it reduce the amount of waste destined to landfill?
- Is it locally manufactured?
- Is it made with post-consumer recycled or reclaimed materials?
- Can it be recycled?
- Is it designed to be durable or multi-functional?
- Is it made with less energy?
- Is it available in a less toxic form?
- Is it possible to reduce the amount of packaging that is used to transport the product?
- Are the product and/or packaging refillable, recyclable or repairable?
- Does it use renewable resources?
- Is reuse practical and encouraged?
- Will the supplier take it back at the end of its useful life?
- What were the health, safety and environmental conditions under which it was manufactured?
- What are the social and environmental practices of the firm that produced it?
Reduce Raw Materials
Green purchasing reduces the inputs of virgin raw materials necessary in the products a business consumes. For instance, buying recycled paper with 30-100% recycled fibre reduces the need to harvest trees for virgin paper fibre. It also requires much less energy to produce that paper. See Buying Greener Paper for more information.
Green purchasing reduces the amount of toxics your business consumes. For instance, green cleaners and degreasers substitute many of the toxic ingredients, like corrosives and heavy metals, in standard chemical formulation. One restaurant in Vancouver, BC, managed to eliminate an entire cleaning process by investigating green purchasing options – they substituted a steam cleaning process for heavy chemical degreasers and now complete their 3-hour oven hood cleaning in 6 minutes.
Green purchasing can reduce the amount of transportation associated with a product. For example, when businesses buy local products, they often reduce transportation emissions associated with their products. You might consider the opportunity of hiring “Smartway Transport Partner” freight and logistics services which post their fuel efficiency and environmental performance scores on line. A second option would be to source these services from suppliers following FleetSmart, a program offered by Natural Resources Canada which helps firms reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy and fuel consumption of their fleets.
Green the Supply Chain
In addition to looking at the environmental attributes of the products you buy, you may also wish to consider the environmental practices of the firms from which you source your services and products. Do they have an environmental commitment, for example? How are they managing their environmental impacts? A hair salon in BC that markets itself as an environmentally friendly salon not only sources organic hair products, but where organic products are not available, it sources from firms that have strong in-house environmental programs.
Just Get Started
There are so many green purchasing opportunities and so much information, that it can be daunting to begin. Get started with easy wins that build success and buy-in with your employees. There are ten steps to starting and further developing your approach to green purchasing – you can start with any one:
- Find Allies in your Organization: identify champions and decision-makers to support you
- Tap Into Key Resources: identify external sources of information to aid decision-making (see, for example, the Sustainability Purchasing Network below)
- Draft a Policy Statement and Make a Plan: create a framework for your activity
- Start a Sustainability Conversation with Current Suppliers: communicate your goals; ask for information on supplier green activities and products
- Find Ways to Use Less of What You Already Have: rethink the purchase, reduce your use and recycle old products into new uses
- Choose New Suppliers Committed to Sustainability: identify suppliers with green product/service lines or green operations
- Take a “Total Cost of Ownership” Approach to What You Buy: think of the long-term costs of your purchase and incorporate health and safety and disposal costs into the purchase decision. See Business Planning & Finance for more information.
- Make a “Top 10” Sustainability Shopping List: identify your top 10 products (see below)
- Set Goals and Track Your Activities: set a goal to guide your work (ex. 2 new green suppliers) and measure how well you do
- Communicate and Reward Achievements: create momentum with staff by informing them of successes and rewarding their ideas. For more information on this list, see Industry Canada's CSR webpage.
Assess Opportunities on “Top 10 Shopping List”
There are some product and service areas where the market is well developed, the costs premiums are lowest, the savings are proven, and the environmental benefits are biggest. Use the following shopping list when looking for opportunities to green your purchasing:
- Electronic Equipment: computers, monitors, printers and photocopiers
- Office Supplies: paper, binders, markers and pens
- Office Furniture: chairs, tables, and wall partitions
- Paper: copy paper, books and note pads
- Lighting: office, kitchen, bathroom and shop floor
- Cleaning Supplies and Custodial Services: general purpose, floor, surface, carpet and solvents
- Meetings/Conferences/Events: facilities, food, recycling and travel
- Business Travel: mode and frequency of travel
- Gifts and Apparel: uniforms, caps, shirts, awards and gifts
- Coffee, Tea and Other Commodities: coffee and coffee services, other food and beverage
Take a Systematic Approach
Buying Greener Paper
Green paper is a great place to start your green purchasing effort, since it’s a material that everyone uses, it has been extremely well developed and tested to work in all applications, it’s well-priced against standard products and it has many environmental benefits.
What Can You Do:
- Don’t buy as much: Reduce paper consumption by increasing document margins, printing double-sided, and saving one-sided paper for scratch pads or for printing drafts.
- Buy recycled: Reduce the need for harvesting new trees by purchasing paper with a high-recycled content. Recycled paper reduces tree harvesting and is made with much less electricity than other paper, resulting in reduced greenhouse gas emissions. See Environmental Defense Fund Paper Calculator to compare the environmental benefits (wood use, total energy, greenhouse gases, wastewater and solid waste) of one paper to another.
- Buy certified paper: Certification gives an assurance of the paper’s claims and fibre sources - that the paper contains the recycled content it claims, and that it contains no illegal or protected forest fibre. See Forest Stewardship Council for more information or to search for certified papers use “paper” under product and “Canada”.
- Buy local: Paper that is manufactured locally travels less, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It may also support jobs and business that are important to your local economy.
For more information, see WWF’s Guide to Buying Paper:
For businesses that want to take a more systematic approach, focus your effort on the supplies that you buy most often and the suppliers with whom you spend the most. In purchasing, this typically refers to a “spend analysis” which breaks all business spending out into commodities and suppliers. It requires a more sophisticated financial system and some time to provide a business with the bigger picture on where it can leverage spending for greater environmental gain. Most businesses then start a conversation (see #4 above) with their top 5 suppliers, or work to green their top 10 or 20 supplies.
The many benefits of green purchasing and environmental management are found in the Business Case. Here are a few that are specific to green purchasing:
Alignment with Organizational Values
Green purchasing is a way to implement your values, to “walk your talk”. It is a visible sign to your employees, suppliers and customers that you are working towards greener operations in your business. It focuses on how a business can align operational decisions with organizational goals and values. For instance, Vancity Credit Union’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2010 was achieved in part due to their choice to purchase 100% post-consumer copy paper for internal use and member (customer) statements.
Closes Loop on Recycling
Green purchasing creates a market for products containing recycled materials, to ensure that the plastic, paper and other materials are recycled into useful products. This closes the loop – at one end you manage your waste by recycling as much as you can, and at the other end you buy products containing recycled materials.
For a comprehensive overview of the many benefits of sustainability purchasing, see the Industry Canada sponsored Guide to the Business Case and Benefits of Sustainability Purchasing.
- Sustainable Purchasing: Industry Canada
- Sustainability Purchasing Network - a non-profit organization that provides tools and resources on integrating environmental and social considerations into your purchasing decisions:
- Guide to the Business Case and Benefits of Sustainability Purchasing:
Rate this page
The content of this page was useful to me.
- Date modified: