Sustainable Procurement Tools

Specification development

Current EU legislation allows environmental considerations to be included in the technical specification of a procurement, requirements must be relevant and proportionate to the particular procurement.

In the case of materials security, buyers should consider whether the products or services required could be substituted before creating the specification, for example could products vulnerable to supply disruption or constraint or unsustainable materials be avoided through a focus on alternative products? 

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. For example, the GBS for furniture includes requirements for reuse, refurbishment, repair, recycling, and recycled content in components and packaging. 

Similar in purpose to the GBS, the EU Green Public Procurement Criteria are developed to facilitate the inclusion of green requirements in public tender documents.


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, which may include waste production, for example the Revolve quality label for re-use, environmental management systems EMAS, Ecolabel or ISO 14001.

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. 

To highlight the requirement to minimise the use of products vulnerable to supply disruption or constraint or unsustainable materials the following wording could be included in a specification: 

‘The supplier shall demonstrate that their product has been eco-designed to enable an extended useful life of the product, easy repair, disassembly for recycling and, preferably, for reuse, in part or whole.’  

‘A requirement of this contract is that [a minimum of X% of the product or the components thereof shall be re-used or recycled at end of life] [materials used or supplied must comprise a minimum X% recycled content].’ 

‘The supplier shall demonstrate that they have a comprehensive risk management process in place to ensure, as much as is possible, security of supply of materials, products or equipment essential to the delivery of the required product/service.  

This shall include supply chain management, sourcing strategies, stock management, assessment of potential risks to supply and appropriate mitigation measures.’