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What is Sustainable Purchasing? [1st in a 3-part series]

Every year, companies spend billions of dollars on new products.  Marketers and advertisers trumpet the performance, price and convenience of products. But less well-known are the impacts that every product carries to market. While some of the impacts can be positive (economic development and job creation come to mind), many are negative. These can include the environmental damage and worker mistreatment that can occur all along the product development process, from resource extraction through ultimate disposal. If your company has made sustainability a value, and is trying to reduce its own adverse impacts, it needs to look past its own operations and into its purchasing choices.

A healthy approach to purchasing is often called “sustainable purchasing.”  The goal is to reduce the adverse impacts associated with products. This is accomplished by including environmental and human health and well-being factors into purchasing decisions, in addition to the traditional criteria of value, availability and performance.  Some examples of products that might qualify as “sustainable” include:

  • Products that are energy efficient
  • Products that are durable and long lasting
  • Products that contain a high percentage of post consumer recycled content
  • Products that are reusable and multi-function products
  • Products with minimal, recycled and recyclable packaging
  • Products made from renewable resources
  • Products that avoid the use of chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and employee and public health
  • Products manufactured locally and responsibly
  • Products that serve several functions and reduce the overall number of products purchased

Integrating these considerations into your company’s purchasing decisions, along with traditional factors as product overall value, performance, and availability demonstrate your company’s  commitment to a healthy environment, social well‐being, and lasting value. Notice that we say “value” rather than “price.”  That’s because sustainable purchasing also expands the assessment of “price” into include all of the costs associated with products over their lifespan, including operation, maintenance and disposal costs. Expanding our thinking about “cost” to include these “life cycle costs” shows us that often the least expensive option isn’t always the best value.

Choosing sustainable products often makes good business sense, because sustainable products often feature better energy efficiency, longer product life, reduced packaging and waste, easier recycling, and reduced impacts from pollution and waste. These benefits can easily translate in to lower operating and disposal costs – while reducing your sustainability footprint. And sustainable purchasing also allows your company to better able to manage the social and environmental risks inherent in every supply chain, while also fostering innovation and creating efficiency.

Sustainable purchasing is a key driver of sustainability in the economy. Each purchasing decision provides an opportunity to choose products that have a reduced negative impact on the environment and human health and well-being.  Fortunately, there is a wealth of information available to help guide decisions about purchasing sustainably. In our next installment, we’ll highlight some of the best ways to identify the best products – those that bring with them a minimized impact while preserving overall value to your company. In the meantime, for more information, check out the Responsible Purchasing Network  – a network of companies committed to environmentally and socially responsible purchasing.

This blog also appeared on 2degreesnetwork.