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' scarcity, buyers should consider whether the products or services required could be substituted before creating the specification, for example could 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.

The GBS for food and catering includes requirements for reducing landfill and food and packaging waste. 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.

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 scarce or unsustainable materials the following wording could be included in a specification: 'a requirement of this contract is that [a minimum of X% of the product or the components thereof shall be reused or recycled at end of life][materials used or supplied must compromise a minimum X% recycled content].'

The example below from Government Buying Standard for Furniture may be used in a specification to highlight the technical requirement to meet sustainability criteria within the components and products:

'The average recycled content of plastic parts (not including packaging) shall be at least 30% by weight.'

'This criterion shall only apply if the total content of plastic material in the furniture product exceeds 20% of the total product weight (excluding packaging).'

'Any wood (including solid, woodchip and wood fibres), cork, bamboo or rattan material, as appropriate, shall be sustainable certified virgin material and/or recycled material. This criterion shall only apply if the total content of these materials in the furniture product exceeds 5% of the total product weight (excluding packaging).'

'A minimum of 70% of the total packaging weight should derive from re-used and recycled content (pre-and post-consumer).'

The example below relates to electrical and electronic equipment (EEE):

'A minimum of 70% by weight of the total EEE packaging should derive from re-used and recycled content (pre-and post-consumer).'

'The tenderer should indicate the percentage by weight of recycled content and/or refurbished and re-used components in the EEE.'

Some additional guidance is included in ‘Procuring Resource Efficient Construction Projects - Model procurement wording for public and private sector clients and contractors on construction projects’ which provides guidance on embedding resource efficiency in construction projects, including the use of sustainable/recycled materials.