Sustainable Procurement Tools

Sustainable requirements can be incorporated into technical specifications, award criteria or contract conditions; however, the principals of equal treatment, non-discrimination, transparency and proportionality are essential and require clarity and precision.

To highlight the requirement to meet ethical criteria the following wording could be included in a specification:

'The contractor is expected to have appropriate standards for its organisation and its supply chain regarding legal, ethical and social issues.'

'The contractor will perform its obligations in accordance with the Authority’s ethical sourcing policy, which is to promote appropriate standards regarding legal, ethical and social issues including, for example, health and safety, security of employment rights, equality, corruption and fair trade, in particular in developing or countries with low production costs.'

'The contractor must take all reasonable steps to ensure that all goods supplied under this contract/framework agreement are produced in accordance with all International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions that have been ratified by the country of their origin, in particular, in relation to labour standards, working conditions and the use of child labour.'

Technical specifications must relate to the characteristics of the particular work, supply or service being purchased, and not to the general capacities or qualities of the bidder.  

All central government departments and their related 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.

They are mandatory for core Scottish Government and their use is encouraged across the wider public sector, except for construction related procurement where Building Standards apply.

The GBS for food and catering services includes a requirement for fairly traded products and the standard for textiles goes further to include demonstration of suppliers addressing ethical and social issues such as living wage provision, avoidance of child labour, application of fair trade principles and adequate working conditions.


A buyer can ask for what they are buying to have been given an independently verifiable label which certifies that it meets specific environmental, social or other characteristics, for example SA8000 or Fairtrade.

The use of labels needs to be approached with care as if a buyer does ask for a label, it must be:

  • linked to the subject of the contract (and all criteria must be relevant)
  • clear to judge in an open and fair way which does not discriminate
  • open to anyone who meets the standards;
  • certified by a third party

This means that a particular label should only be requested where all of its certification characteristics correspond to a procurement.

Where not all of a label’s certification characteristics apply to a procurement, it would be more appropriate to provide a full description of the requirements in the tender documentation, instead of asking for the label itself.

Additionally, if a specific label is requested evidence of compliance with an equivalent standard or label must also be accepted.   

A buyer could also just use the criteria behind labels to help draw up contract conditions in order to define the conditions in which the products originate, and then for checking compliance with these requirements, by accepting the label as a means of proof of compliance with the technical specifications.

The European Commission published a fully revised version of the Buying Green Handbook in April 2016 which contains further guidance on using labels.

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