Sustainable procurement in government

Sustainable procurement practices are fundamental in government to ensure sustainability ambitions are met, but where should organisations start?

Sustainable procurement in government

Sustainable procurement practices are fundamental in government to ensure sustainability ambitions are met, but where should organisations start?


Meet the author

Catriona McKimmie


Sustainable procurement offers a huge opportunity to affect change through working with suppliers and partners.

The UK Government’s ambition to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is of paramount importance, and will not be reached without such a systems-thinking approach.

Overcoming our dependency on fossil fuels will accelerate our transition to a greener, sustainable and more equitable economy for all. On an international stage, we should be a first mover, leading the way in the decarbonisation agenda.

At Clarasys, sustainability is part of our DNA. We believe that we have a responsibility to future generations and that considering the planet, people and prosperity implications within every decision is a necessity.

We’re proud to be helping the Government on the road to net zero, and ensure we look at all of our public sector projects with a sustainability lens.

Individual government programmes know that they must consider the environment when launching and procuring, but often don’t know where to start or what resources they might need to contribute to the net-zero ambition. The good news? A simple shift in behaviour is often enough to make a real difference. Embedding a mindset of sustainable procurement into your decision-making and programme planning is one of the best ways to have a positive impact.

Where should I begin with sustainable procurement?

Initially, it’s important to understand where you’re starting from. Doing a baseline assessment of your programme’s performance (or expected future performance) against a range of environmental and social metrics will highlight areas to celebrate and places where you should concentrate efforts to improve.

There are a number of frameworks that you can use to assess your baseline, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the B Corp framework, and the Global Reporting Initiative. Each has been developed from a different angle (international policy, socially responsible business and corporate governance respectively).  Clarasys recommends a combination of all three to ensure that you’re covering the broadest range of social and sustainability metrics.

When it comes to running a sustainable procurement for new services, there are several standards that you must comply with. For contracts worth £5m pa or more, suppliers must align to the 2050 net-zero ambition. Additional frameworks, such as the Greening Government Commitments, Procurement Policy Note: Taking account of Carbon Reduction Plans in the procurement of major government contracts and Government Buying Standards, should also be consulted in this instance.

What is actually important in sustainable procurement?

Following baselining, ensure that you’re tackling the most material things first. Committing to cutting air travel may sound great, but if 90% of journeys are undertaken by road, looking at your electric vehicle policy may have a far higher impact.

Clarasys recently used our in-house materiality assessment tool on a large government procurement exercise to highlight what was important when constructing the requirement set. The result was a concise set of requirements that are easily understandable by suppliers and which drive the desired behaviours, without being so difficult to meet that the competition is over before it’s begun.

Together, baselining and assessing materiality will equip you with a set of targeted areas that can be tackled in priority order.

Who needs to be involved with sustainable procurement? (Spoiler: it’s everyone)

Concurrently to baselining and assessing materiality you should be gaining buy-in from all levels.

Sustainability initiatives can sometimes be seen as an unnecessary distraction, entailing cumbersome reporting requirements. Investing time in explaining the why behind changes will pay off in the future with an engaged workforce who feel connected to your sustainability vision.

A lack of ownership is often a big stumbling block in improving sustainability.

When operating in multi-supplier environments, ensure that you have a named point of contact from each supplier who has clear and measurable accountabilities. Encouraging an environment of open knowledge sharing and collaboration through shared forums will help all parties to work together and improve the service as a whole, not just their individual silo.

Measure and communicate the benefit

Lastly, you do yourself and your hard work a disservice if you fail to measure, quantify and communicate the benefit of sustainability-related activities.

Doing this will allow you to link back to the government’s net-zero strategy: demonstrating how your work is contributing to something larger than the sum of its parts.

Quantifying the benefit doesn’t need to be black and white. Try being creative and communicating the volume of carbon you’ve saved in terms of trees planted or air miles saved.

Sustainability should never be an afterthought, particularly in the context of the huge opportunity provided by sustainable procurement in government. By placing it front and centre from the offset you have the chance to make real, lasting change. Instead, look at sustainability as a golden thread woven throughout your procurement’s lifecycle, from mobilisation through to go-live via all decision-making forums.

To find out how our sustainability consulting can help you, get in touch.

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