Sustainable Buildings Toolkit:
Sustainable Procurement

1. What is sustainable procurement?

Procurement is the process of obtaining goods and services via sourcing and contracting.  These range from small scale (a purchase using petty cash or a onetime online order, using the suppliers’ standard terms and conditions) to high value and complex (a tender exercise to find a multiyear maintenance agreement, or a tendering exercise for a building contract, including service levels, pricing structures, key performance indicators etc).

Traditionally, procurement had considered a combination of cost and quality considerations when choosing between suppliers. Sustainable procurement requires organisations to also consider social and environmental factors when making sourcing decisions. These environmental and social impacts include the following:

• Environmental impacts: Climate change, resource depletion, air, water or land pollution associated with manufacture or transportation, habitat destruction, impacts to species, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity

• Social impacts: The payment (or not) of fair wages, working conditions and adherence to labour standards, the existence of child labour modern slavery or human trafficking in supply chains

2. Who is this guidance for?

Staff members from building maintenance departments as well as anyone who can influence a sustainable procurement plan and policy for a capital project.

3. Scope of sustainable procurement

Everything we buy can be bought more sustainably.  However, some key spend categories areas for cultural organisations to consider are:

  • Building fabric elements for maintenance and building works e.g. insulation, windows/doors
  • Internal finishes/flooring/partitions
  • Building services e.g. including heat source, space heating and air conditioning, ventilation and fuel installations/systems, lighting
  • Building maintenance contracts

4. First principles of sustainable procurement

A sustainable procurement approach requires you to:

  • Only procure the good and services you need. Before making a new purchase, challenge yourself to see if there are internal resources you can use or repurpose, and consider renting or leasing as alternatives to outright purchases. Buying as part of a group and co-owning goods or assets may be a useful option.
  • Consider the entire lifecycle of the goods and services you buy, from manufacture to disposal when making decisions about what to buy.
  • Work with suppliers to improve environmental and socio-economic performance from the point of manufacture to final delivery and ultimate disposal of a product or service.
  • Understand your data: how much are you spending, and on what? Once you know this, focus first on the good and services that will have the greatest impact.
  • Know your contracts: The aim of a sustainable procurement strategy is to establish a plan and framework for the responsible sourcing of products and services.  For this to be successful, you will need to have at least some idea of what you plan to procure over the next few years.
  • Be strategic. Think about what environmental or social criteria matter most to your organisation, and which you will be able to incorporate into procurement questions or contracts.

5. Developing a sustainable procurement strategy

Sustainable procurement needs to form part of your organisation’s wider sustainability strategy, rather than being seen in isolation. Some larger organisations publish their Sustainable Procurement strategies online

You are unlikely to be able to change everything at once, so use your organisational goals, spend data and contact pipeline to come up some general principles, along with a feasible multi-year action plan and targets.

6. Managing your contractors

Successful sustainable procurement requires strong relationships, and active management of contracts.  It is always useful with new and existing suppliers to ask for their sustainable policies, strategies and credentials, and share your organisation’s goals. However, bear in mind that while SMEs often operate in a more sustainable way than larger companies (shorter supply chains, lower energy and transport usage, etc.), they may not be used to talking about their operations in these terms, so view this as a dialogue rather than a one-way conversation.

For high value contracts, or those with a potential negative impact on sustainability, identify key performance indicators or service levels within any new contracts (see “The Guidance”). Try and negotiate these into existing contracts where possible. Actual performance and governance can be different from initial promises, so set up regular review meetings with key build in break clauses into new contracts and trigger them if suppliers don’t meet agreed targets.

Proper contract management requires time and effort on both sides, so try to ensure that any terms built into a contract are relevant and proportionate to the contract.

Lastly, remember that treating your suppliers fairly and reasonably is also an element of sustainable procurement. Ensure that you are meeting your contract obligations too, such as ensuring invoices are paid on time!

The Arts Green Book has brought together culturalorganisations and sustainability experts to create common guidance for making culture sustainable.