A strategic approach to sustainable purchasing
When an organization buys sustainable products and services, it has a positive impact on human health and the environment. Better buying can and should also be cost effective. These five best practices make sustainable purchasing possible without compromising price, performance, or quality:
1) Look beyond the first cost
Items with the lowest purchase price may have a higher life-cycle cost than other options. A Life Cycle Cost Analysis can help evaluate options before making a purchase or finalizing a project. It is more likely to find sustainable values when significant quantities or when high-value goods or services are purchased.
In the analysis, the initial cost includes expenses associated with acquisition, shipping, and receiving of goods. Service cost should be quantified when a purchase triggers the need to contract for specialized service or maintenance.
For durable goods, especially those involving electrical or mechanical components, the preventive maintenance cost varies substantially. When capital equipment or facilities are being purchased or built, the quantity of energy, water, labor, and other resources involved in daily use will impact the operating cost.
Disposal cost also belongs in the equation whether the asset is discarded, recycled, or resold.
A waste audit is a low-tech, hands-on task that identifies and quantifies items that are easily damaged or quickly worn-out. That information becomes an important component of future purchase decisions.
3) Consider long-term impact
Depending on the purchase being considered, one or more of these questions may lead to monthly or quarterly bottom-line savings.
Is it reusable?
Will it be discarded after one use, like the wooden chopsticks in many restaurants, or will a more durable product bring lower life-cycle cost?
Beyond the positive environmental impact, many recycled items can be sold. Avoid purchasing non-recyclable plastics, which one day may be banned, making them unusable as well as undesirable! These include Styrofoam, plastic-lined paper containers, and any packaging or lid made of polystyrene (the #6 plastic).
Is it made of recycled materials?
When purchased items have recycled content, that benefits both the manufacturer and the recycling facility. Waste is minimized while greater use is made of resources. That’s the Circular Economy!
Can renewable energy or alternative fuels be used?
While petroleum products further pollute water sources and spew greenhouse gasses, renewable energy prices have steadily declined. The urgent need for clean energy grows as the cost diminishes.
How efficient are the lighting and other electrical components?
Manufacturer claims are independently verified through the EPEAT program, which publishes an online registry of sustainable products.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR® program certifies that a product saves energy without reducing the features or functions.
Further energy can be saved when Light-Emitting Diodes (LED) are purchased rather than Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL). Beyond their lower wattage, LED provide the advantages of lasting longer and containing no mercury. Hazardous substances like mercury can increase disposal cost.
4) Source responsibly
Where and how an organization spends its money is a message. It tells consumers and other businesses that the organization participates in positive change in the community and beyond. Sustainable sourcing is sourcing for good.
Organizations that supply or prepare food can reduce long-distance shipping needs when they participate in sustainable local agriculture. The purchase choice of local produce and meats reduce shipping costs and environmental impacts from shipping while supporting the local economy.
Sustainable agriculture brings seasonal changes to restaurant menus and grocery store produce aisles. This eliminates the need to transport and warehouse food from international or cross-continent sources.
Wood and paper products can also be sourced sustainably. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies products from forests that are responsibly managed. In those forests, seedlings are planted to replace any harvested trees.
Responsible sourcing is ethical sourcing. That requires attention to social and humanitarian practices:
- Eliminating child labor
- Paying fair wages
- Providing safe and healthy working conditions
- Limiting pesticide use
5) Consider alternatives to one-time purchases
Sustainable best practices can lower an item’s net cost. Examine project budgets to find equipment being purchased for only one project. Could equipment be borrowed from elsewhere in the organization? That could bring the net cost to zero! Could the item be rented? Again, substantial savings are possible.
Capital assets return value only when used regularly. They otherwise incur cost simply by occupying valuable space. Collaborative use of equipment and materials optimizes materials and reduces costs. To increase the efficiency of sharing, an organization should maintain an asset inventory that employees — especially project managers — can access. To avoid losing or misplacing an asset, attach an RFID tag.
 TriplePundit.com — Sustainable Purchasing 101
 Passengers pitch in to divert landfill waste
 MWDaily.com — Minneapolis businesses prepare for ban on certain plastics
 CosmosMagazine.com — Protests and purchasing power could be positive tipping points in climate change
 EPEAT Registry
 StPeteCatalyst.com — Five ways St. Pete’s proposed sustainability plan could impact businesses
 US.FSC.org — Forest Stewardship Council
 SourcingNetwork.org — Responsible Sourcing Network
 LabManager.com — Building a culture of sustainability