What is sustainable procurement?
The UN operates to achieve the goals of peace, equality, sustainable development and respect for human rights. The way the UN manages its operations and procures should reflect these goals by providing clear signals to the market in favor of sustainability, innovation, and the promotion of the cleaner and more socially responsible products and services.
With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN system has been called to internalize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), across policy, operational and administrative aspects.
SDG 12. “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” and its Target 12.7 therein referring to the need to “Promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities” is clearly pointing at public procurement as one of the strategies towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Procurement can be seen as a “soft” governance mechanism to encourage markets to produce more sustainable products, and contribute to global efforts working to achieve resource efficiency, tackle climate change and address social issues ranging from human rights and gender equality, to decent work and employment.
Procurement is called sustainable when it integrates requirements, specifications and criteria that are compatible and in favour of the protection of the environment, of social progress and in support of economic development, namely by seeking resource efficiency, improving the quality of products and services and ultimately optimizing costs.
Through sustainable procurement, organizations use their own buying power to give a signal to the market in favour of sustainability and base their choice of goods and services on:
- economic considerations: best value for money, price, quality, availability, functionality;
- environmental considerations, i.e. green procurement: the impacts on the environment that the product and/or service has over its whole life-cycle, from cradle to grave; and
- social considerations: effects of purchasing decisions on issues such as poverty eradication, international equity in the distribution of resources, labour conditions, human rights.
Sustainable procurement is not about “burdening” the market with extra requirements; rather it is a well-defined strategy that gradually phases in sustainable requirements in tenders and bids, promotes dialogue and open communication between the suppliers and procurers.
Ensuring the lowest environmental and most positive social impact of procurement does not only build on international commitments related to environment, social or labour issues; it also serves as a preventive mechanism for the purchasing organization to mitigate and manage the reputational risk associated with environmental damages or social exploitation cases that could occur throughout its supply chain.
Since April 2017, sustainable procurement is also addressed under a global standard; that is the ISO 20400. This is globally the first international standard for sustainable procurement, acknowledging sustainable procurement as a key aspect of social responsibility, and thus it comes to complement ISO 26000, Guidance on social responsibility. In comparison to other ISO standards, ISO 20400 is not a certification standard; meaning that public or private organization cannot become ISO 20400 certified. It rather aims to provide harmonized, international guidelines that can be applied universally, and in sufficient detail, in order to help organizations to develop and implement sustainable purchasing practices and policies.
The ISO 20400 standard can be found on https://www.iso.org/standard/63026.html