Sustainable Procurement Tools


Sustainable requirements need to be incorporated into the specification and must be relevant to the particular procurement, and not to the general capacities or qualities of the operator.

Technical specifications

Technical specifications relating to embodied carbon are those that require all suppliers to supply, or use in service delivery, products or materials that meet specific relevant standards. Technical specifications need to relate to characteristics of the particular work, supply or service being purchased, and not to the general capacities or qualities of the operator – a procurer should only include those requirements which are related to the production of the good, service or work being purchased, rather than those which relate to the general practices or policies of the operator.

For example, core Scottish Government organisations must ensure that they meet the Government Buying Standards (GBS) - a set of product specifications for public buyers when buying goods and services for those product groups covered. Some of these include requirements that can impact on embodied carbon of products or materials. See details below.

GBS use is encouraged across the wider public sector. It is important to establish that the market for a particular product can meet these requirements before incorporating them; if using the GBS criteria, they have been tested against market capabilities.

Other standards and labels exist which include a focus on embodied carbon – for example, low impact manufacturing, recycled content within products or materials, design for reuse and recycling . While not mandatory they may be appropriate for certain procurements as underlying criteria may be relevant.

The use of Labels

A buyer may ask for a product to have been given an independently verifiable label or operate to a stated standard which certifies that it meets specific embodied carbon characteristics.

The use of labels needs to be considered with care. They must be:

  • linked to the subject of the contract (and all criteria must be relevant).
  • based on solid scientific evidence.
  • transparent, fair and non-discriminatory.
  • open to anyone who meets the standards.
  • certified by a third party e.g. Type 1 eco-labels (based on publicly available specifications, are operated by third parties, involve independent audits and consider life-cycle environmental impacts).

Where not all of a label’s criteria are relevant to a procurement, it is better to set out relevant criteria and requirements in the tender and contract conditions, instead of asking for the label. You may accept the holding of a relevant eco-label as evidence of compliance with that specification (including climate change) – but must be prepared to accept equivalent means of proof that the product or service meets the specification.

The following are some standards and labels which include a focus on embodied carbon. As indicated above it is important to be clear that the underlying criteria of these or others are relevant for the planned procurement; these may also not address all issues relating to embodied carbon:

UK Government Buying Standards (GBS) Mandatory for Central Government organisations, the GBS provide a useful source of information and specifications for Local Government. They also provide sustainability specifications for commonly procured products and services. Some that include, in part, a focus on embodied carbon are shown opposite. They apply at ‘Mandatory’ or ‘Best Practice’ levels.

GBS criteria relating to:

Furniture - includes design for disassembly requirements.

Computer monitors and others – includes plastic parts >100 g consist of one material or of easily separable materials (to aid disassembly, reuse and recycling).
EU Green Public Procurement Criteria

The EU GPP criteria facilitate the inclusion of green requirements in public tenders for commonly procured products and services. Some that include, in part, a focus on embodied carbon are shown opposite.

Contracting Authorities may, where relevant, require suppliers to be able to meet specific or all of the criteria within these.

Prior to the UK’s exit from the EU there was increasing alignment between the EU GPP criteria and those within the UK Government Buying Standards (see below). While not mandatory, they provide a useful source of information. They apply at ‘Core’ or ‘Comprehensive’ levels.

GPP criteria relating to:

Textiles - AC5: Design for reuse and recycling – ‘Garments must be designed so that any logos or distinctive identification features can be easily removed or overprinted without damaging the item’.
Certification of recycled content There are various organisations that provide certification services regarding recycled content within products, materials or packaging which can be sector specific. As there is no single label confirming recycled content buyers should understand criteria behind the label to obtain assurance that verification of content is robust.

For example, the Textile Exchange Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) + Global Recycled Standard (GRS) include verification of recycled content in relevant products.


Certification of ‘circular’ products Products may be certified to meet ‘circular’ outcomes, which support a reduction in embodied carbon.

For example, under the Cradle to Cradle Certified standard products are assessed for environmental and social performance across five critical sustainability categories, which can impact on embodied carbon: supporting the circular economy and other outcomes: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. A product is assigned an achievement level (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) for each category.

Within the construction sector:

  • Useful information for construction materials exists in the form of embodied carbon databases such as the one created by RICS and ICE. These can help a buyer assess the relevant embodied carbon values of construction materials and can contribute to the evaluation of alternatives. For complex and significant projects the application of carbon methodology in accordance with PAS2080 may be relevant. An example is the Cross Tay Link Road: Reducing embodied carbon through construction project design under which tenderers were asked to demonstrate how they would achieve a minimum saving of 14,000 tCO2e (30% of total embodied carbon of the Specimen Design). For more details, see our process-focused case study on the Case Studies section of the Sustainable Procurement Tools.
  • Additional construction materials are listed in the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Green Guide to Specification which assesses materials and components in terms of their environmental impacts, within comparable specifications, across their entire life cycles.
  • Zero Waste Scotland has developed an online interactive guide: Procuring resource efficient construction projects to reduce waste, and enhance re-use and recycling, through design and resource efficiency for construction, renovation and demolition. 

Buyers should first consider whether the products or materials required could be of a lower embodied carbon design before creating the specification, for example as part of life cycle impact and cost assessment could wood wool insulation be used rather than fibreglass or could wood be used in furniture instead of steel frames and if not could the steel be recycled. 

Within the Annex are examples of embodied carbon wording that may be used within specifications.

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