Sustainable procurement is a process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis. This means generating benefits not only to the organisation, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment.

Sustainable procurement should consider the environmental, social and economic consequences of: Design; non-renewable material use; manufacture and production methods; logistics; service delivery; use; operation; maintenance; reuse; recycling options; disposal; and suppliers' capabilities to address these consequences throughout the supply chain.

The health and social care sector has been working to include sustainability considerations in its procurement for many years.  Reducing carbon emissions and improving labour standards through procurement are two very important areas for the health and social care sector.

Procuring for Carbon Reduction (P4CR)

The procurement of goods and services represents 72% of the NHS, public health and social care carbon footprint.  Measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of procured goods and services can help demonstrate a more sustainable procurement approach across the system.  The P4CR suite of support materials includes guidance and tools that can help your organisation deliver on this agenda. Find them on the Research, tools and guidance page.

Ethical Procurement for Health (EPH)

The health and care system also has an ethical duty to protect and promote health and wellbeing. It is important that suppliers of goods and services operate in a socially responsible way.  Buying goods or services from suppliers which damage public health through poor environmental practices or promote social inequality through their employment practices is a breach of that duty. 

Developed in partnership between the British Medical Association (BMA), Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and the Department of Health (DH) the Ethical Procurement for Health suite of support materials can help your organisation achieve social and ethical benefits through procurement. Find them on the Research, tools and guidance page.

Sustainable product specifications

Sustainable procurement requires the health and care system to work in partnership with suppliers and the supply chain to take into account the whole lifecycle, environmental, social and ethical impact of procured goods and services.  It takes into account the carbon emissions released and resources used at all stages of the product’s life i.e. from extraction, processing, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal or recovery. The products and materials used in delivering health and care are procured from all over the world. An environmentally and socially responsible procurement approach provides an opportunity to enhance health and wellbeing globally as well as in the UK. For commonly purchased products the UK Government and the EU Commission have developed standard sustainable specifications for procurers to use in the shape of the Government Buying Standards and the Green Public Procurement criteria.  The two sets of criteria are broadly aligned but not identical.

Creating Social Value

As of 2012 the NHS, public health and social care system should aim to use its buying power to generate social benefits.  This duty is enshrined in the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which brings a statutory requirement for public authorities to consider economic, social and environmental wellbeing, when negotiating public service contracts.  See the The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 – advice for commissioners and procurers.


Further reading