A guide to Sustainable Procurement

The carbon emissions of your business include the direct emissions from your operations – primarily from heat, electricity and transportation and the indirect emissions from what your business buys and sells. Indirect emissions can often be 5-10 times larger than a business’s direct emissions. Reviewing where your supplies come from may well be the best contribution your business can make to solving the ecological emergency as well as the climate emergency. 

Creating and implementing a sustainable procurement policy is important in reducing your own emissions and your businesses costs. Sustainability and minimising resource use is known to improve economic output and shareholder value. It can be a very powerful way to engage your suppliers, by asking what their climate ambitions and action plans are – especially when other customers are asking similar questions – leading to a domino effect. 

For Bristol to achieve its climate ambitions, every business will need to take steps to reduce their emissions, and to use your influence to encourage others.

This is a suggested guide to developing a sustainable procurement policy for your business and some examples of such from Bristol City Council, the NHS, the University of Bristol and others (as below).

Step One – What does your scope look like?  

Map out who your suppliers are and what are the areas you would like to focus on. This is obviously dependant on the nature of your business so think about: 

  • Which of your suppliers are for service contracts? Such as office supplies or cleaning
  • Which are for specific goods, products and raw materials that have a carbon impact associated with their manufacture, production and transportation?
    For example, construction materials or precious metals in electrical equipment
  • Are there obvious suppliers with high carbon or ecological impacts? Such as maintenance, IT or catering providers 
  • Do you want to focus on high value or longer-term contracts? 
  • Are there any relatively easy wins?
  • Do you want to focus on your direct suppliers, or also include third tier suppliers?
  • What are your competitors, or others doing? Can you work together on this? 

Step Two – What are you committed to?  

You will likely already have policies and processes that make your supply chain more sustainable, even if you haven’t necessarily thought of them as such 

  • Are there legal requirements you need to meet, such as what knowing what happens to your waste?  
  • Are there industry specific standards you adhere to? Or would like to? 
  • Have you declared a climate commitment, ambition or target, as part of a national initiative e.g., Race to Zero, Architects Declare, or via the SME Climate Hub 
  • Are there specific practices, that might save money while increasing the sustainability of your operation that can be expanded upon?
    e.g., recycling during industrial processes, or collecting packaging from your customers

Step Three – What is your vision?  

Think about what success would look like? What would a sustainable procurement policy and its implementation achieve for your business or organisation? 

  • Do you want to communicate or prove something about your products to your customers? E.g., using accreditation ala FSC timber, sustainable palm oil, MSC certified, powered by renewable energy or something tailored to your industry 
  • Do you want to be able to report on reductions in your carbon emissions, including scope 3 indirect emissions to your shareholders, staff and customers? 
  • Do you want to only work with suppliers who are committed to the same ambitions and targets as your business? 
  • Do you want to be a market leader in terms of sustainability? Are you looking to become a B-Corp or a Bristol Climate Leader? 
  • Do you want to support Bristol’s 2030 climate ambitions by encouraging your Bristol based suppliers to reduce emissions? If yes please tell us by signing up to the Bristol Climate Ask 

Step Four – What are your aims and objectives? 

What are the specific outcomes that would support your vision? Are there concrete aims and objectives that you would like to achieve on the way? These might include 

  • Reporting on your suppliers’ emissions or ecological footprint 
  • Reducing unnecessary transport emissions e.g., from air freight, by buying locally 
  • Reducing costs by minimising resource use, e.g., excess packaging and plastic 

Step Five – What are you going to do about it?  

What are the concrete steps and initiatives you can take to create and implement your sustainability policy? 

  • Creating an internal working group 
  • Adding requirements to a specification during it’s tender process, and an evaluation process for responses 
  • Introducing guidance, training and support for businesses in your supply chain 

Step Six – Who can help you get there? 

  • Are you a member of an organisation such as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) or Business West, who provide help and support? 
  • There are a range of Bristol networks that can help, such as Bristol Green Capital Partnership or many others if you are looking for something specific.
  • Do you have an environmental professional in your organisation, or can you train someone up to lead on this? 
  • Do you have people who are responsible for buying in your organisation? How can they help you embed sustainability into contracts? 
  • Do you have the resources to hire a consultant to help map out your supply chain carbon and ecological footprints or to create your policy and processes 
  • Are there other businesses with similar challenges that you can talk to, or potentially there is a meeting you can convene between 5-6 such businesses 


Sustainability is a large area where you can make a real difference, through both simple and more complex steps but 

  • This won’t happen overnight, it is important, but you have other business priorities 
  • It is worth focusing on where you can have the biggest impact 
  • Think about some easy wins e.g., asking your competitors and suppliers what they are doing, so you can demonstrate progress to others 
  • Work with your supply chain, as this is new to all of us! Listen to their suggestions and what they have to say, and adapt you’re thinking accordingly 

First (or) your next steps 

  • Create your policy, strategy or action plan document 
  • Communicate within your organisation, so everyone knows the direction of travel and get buy in and sign off from senior decision makers 
  • Share with us what you commit to, what change you made and how you got on in embedding sustainability into your procurement processes
  • Celebrate your success, learn from things that didn’t go to plan, and encourage your customers and suppliers to follow your lead 
  • If your business has not already done so join the Bristol Climate Ask 

Links and further reading 

Case Study: Jeff Way

Bristol electricians Jeff Way were alongside other business factors, motivated to reduce their emissions in response to public sector organisations surveying suppliers around sustainable travel, energy use and carbon reduction plans. This was a precursor to such organisations introducing sustainable procurement policies. This puts such businesses like Jeff Way and others, in a strong position to compete for such contracts. If you have a similar story to tell then please get in touch.