Work with colleagues to understand the primary need, including how the purchase aligns with your organisation’s sustainability goals. Identify sustainability risks, opportunities, and crucial criteria for your decision.

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Collaborate to better understand the need

Collaborate with colleagues to understand their needs and position your procurement team to explore sustainable options to meet these requirements. At early stages, try to set aside specific or technical details and instead ask more fundamental questions: for example, is the need to purchase electric vehicles or is it about decarbonising logistics? Leverage the learning from previous procurement processes and consider your business' context and timeline, since at early stages in your sustainability journey, sustainable procurement may need more time and resources. Explore the risks and sustainability opportunities by considering the full life cycle of the product or services and consider alternative sourcing options such as reusing or renting. Summarise the procurement needs, including your sustainability goals and alternative sourcing opportunities, and share the statement to gather feedback and to help inform the next steps in the procurement process. 

EXAMPLE: Energy company pivots to meet its need with existing infrastructure

Alliander, an energy distribution company, planned to expand its office space with sustainably certified buildings. However, after clearly defining the core need, it became evident that additional workstations were required. Suppliers were able to offer creative solutions to meet the need, including using existing buildings, which avoided procuring new materials.1

Consider your sustainability commitments as well as key risks and opportunities

Define your sustainability goals for this procurement and consider potential sustainability impacts and risks. Review your organisation's sustainability commitments, like reducing emissions or promoting diversity, and develop priorities for the procurement that can later be incorporated into your RFx and evaluations. Make a preliminary list of associated risks and opportunities to improve sustainability, drawing upon any work already undertaken to EVALUATE RISK in your supply chain and considering previous contract data, where available. Review your supply chain's legal risks and assess who has duties of care. Be prepared to address concerns about conflicting goals, such as cost versus sustainability, by explaining to colleagues how sustainable procurement can add value through innovation, efficiency, risk management, supplier relations, and customer loyalty using life cycle costing and return on sustainable investment.

EXAMPLE: Mining company discovers in-house waste stream that meets its need

A mining company regularly procures new mudflaps for their haul trucks. After considering alternative ways to meet this need, the company discovered that an in-house waste stream –– worn-out conveyor belts –– could be repurposed to produce mudflaps in a resource-efficient way.3

EXAMPLE: Sustainability prioritisation in Dutch Government procurement: the ambition web approach3

Using an 'ambition web', the Dutch government's central procurement prioritises sustainability, focusing mainly on reducing emissions, minimising raw materials, and mitigating chemical impacts. Secondary ambitions involve human rights and social costs. In related ICT equipment tenders’ evaluation, nearly 87% of the quality score relates to sustainability.

Plan for how you will assess and weight sustainability factors

To influence and inform how much attention and consideration sustainability receives during the procurement process, begin to plan now for the sustainability criteria and weighting within the specifications, award criteria, and contract conditions. Consider your available resources to evaluate sustainability, such as time, expertise, data and ability to verify supplier claims. How can your team develop and use a scoring system to assign weights to sustainability factors in the procurement process? This preparation is particularly important in public procurement, as your weighting cannot be changed once the call for tender is published. Plan to use market engagement activities to test and get feedback on the feasibility of the sustainability weighting and associated information needs from a supplier perspective.

Where applicable, choose the procurement approach

Once your need is confirmed, choose how to approach the procurement to get a competitive market response that meets sustainable aims. For example, joint procurement with other buyers can aggregate spending power to motivate the market to lower prices and innovate for sustainability. Framework agreements or sustainable product catalogs and online marketplaces can motivate suppliers by giving them access to continuous opportunities and making it simple for your colleagues to find sustainable products and services. The choices made here will affect how the following planning steps happen.

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GPP Training Toolkit - Module 4: Needs Assessment

This training toolkit by the European Commission provides guidance on conducting a needs assessment, including developing a needs statement. While the steps outlined are for public procurement, they can also be applied to private procurement and procurement outside of the European context. 

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Implementing Resource Efficient Business Models: Identify Needs

This step-by-step guide by Resource Efficient Businesses (REBus) helps you integrate sustainability across the procurement cycle. The first stage, "Identify Needs", outlines how to define your business need, consider alternative sourcing options, and develop buy-in internally. 

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Circular Procurement in 8 Steps

This eBook by Copper8 offers practical guidance on integrating circular principles into your procurement cycle by outlining eight steps you can take to minimise waste and maximise value retention of the resources and materials you procure.

Prepare: Step 1 (pages 44 to 55) offers practical guidance on how to get started, including why circular procurement is valuable, what it means to your organisation, and how to get started with a low-risk pilot.

Tender RF(x): Step 5 (pages 86 to 93) focuses on the selection stage of your tendering procedure, including the legal principles you can apply to ensure your sustainability ambitions are reflected in your tender.

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Return on Sustainability Investment (ROSI) Methodology

Although business and societal success depends on sustainability, most businesses companies struggle with demonstrating the monetary impact of their sustainability efforts as they seek to address ESG issues. In response, the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business (CSB) has developed the Return on Sustainability Investment (ROSI) methodology. The ROSI methodology was created to help companies measure the financial returns on their sustainability activities and, thus bridging the gap between sustainability strategies and financial performance and allowing users to build a better business case for current and future sustainability initiatives.

CSB offers in-depth resources on ROSI, including a step-by-step overview; original research publications and an interactive research database; industry case studies on implementing ROSI; Excel tools for testing ROSI focused on risk, talent, and operational efficiency; and a free online course module for building a case for sustainability.

This suite of resources will help you to assess the value created by sustainability strategies, to track sustainability-related financial performance in real time, and to assess the potential ROI of future sustainability initiatives at both the firm and the division level.

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Global Media Scanning Tool

This scanning tool by The GDELT Project is a real-time open data global graph of human society compiled from the world's news media. You can use it to check for negative news coverage of your suppliers in any country and over 100 languages.