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What an organization buys, who it buys from, and how it uses the goods and services once bought is a reflection of the organization's values. Sustainable purchasing policies shows a commitment to reducing environmental, social, and economic impacts.

Getting started

Begin by gathering information on other sustainability initiatives important to your organization. It might be helpful to create a policy team to assist with the development of the policy.

Consider connecting with the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program. Establishing a sustainable purchasing policy is one of the Best Practices.

1. Purpose and background

State clearly the rational of the policy. How does sustainable purchasing supports the organization's goals?

Connect the sustainable purchasing policy to existing mission statements, policies, statutes, and programs. Specify that policy governs procurement of goods and services. Include that it applies to all purchasers, departments, vendors, contractors, and/or grantees. This first section should also include the definition of sustainable purchasing. Consult EPA and Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council for ideas.


2. Guidance and definition of terms

The sustainable purchasing policy should focus on the “big picture." Answer these types of questions:

  • Will the policy touch on pre-procurement issues like maintenance and reuse of existing assets? Rental vs. purchase?
  • Is a purchaser authorized to pay more for better products?
  • Can life cycle costs be considered? Durable products can be more expensive, but the lifetime costs of replacing less durable products may save money.
  • How should third-party certifications (ecolabels) be selected?
  • And how should various environmental attributes or goals be prioritized? For example, is bio-based better than recycled content?

Addresses expectations when buying environmentally preferable goods and services.


3. Connect to internal & external mandates and policies

A strong sustainable purchasing policy is connected to other existing directives. Include references in the mandate or policy, so that users can reference it. Identify specifics to reinforce goals and implementation.


4. Address the use of standards and certifications

Provide guidance on the types of ecolabels to be considered. Common criteria are:

  • Use of an open and consensus-based standard development process
  • Third-party verification used for conformity assessments

Beware of any ecolabel that can be purchased outright. Ecolabels tend to be unregulated. However, the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides set ground rules for environmental claims made on products. The Ecolabel Index can be a helpful tool for evaluating the myriad ecolabels on the market.

5. Definition of responsibilities and authorities for decision-making

Clearly defined roles and responsibilities are critical to an effective sustainable purchasing policy. Identify stakeholders within your organization who are responsible implementing the policy. Establish teams to implement policy elements. Tasks can include selection of ecolabels, communication, training, and reporting.


6. Accountability and reporting

The effectiveness of the sustainable purchasing policy can only be judged via reporting. Include reporting requirements to keep those implementing the policy accountable. Reports may be requested from vendors and from within your organization. These reports should be submitted on an annual basis. This part of the policy should state who requests and who receives the reports.

The policy identifies key points to evaluate and report how departments are meeting goals and mandates.


More information