Sustainable purchasing is an effort to buy greener, healthier, and more sustainable products from greener, more sustainable companies. It is based on the simple concept that every single purchase has hidden human health, environmental, and social impacts and that it is possible to reduce adverse impacts by buying better products.
The hidden impacts occur throughout a product’s supply chain: from the point raw materials are scraped out of or harvested from the earth, to the preparation of the raw materials, the manufacturing processes, the packaging, use and ultimate disposal of the product, including all of the transportation requirements throughout the lifecycle. The cumulative total of the impacts defines the product’s sustainability footprint.
Sustainable purchasing means buying products with improved sustainability footprints that also meet price, performance and quality requirements.
Consumers rely on various environmental labels to help them identify the greener, healthier products, including:
For many of these organizations, responsible purchasing is more than “doing the right thing.” Green purchasing priorities are frequently connected with specific business objectives like reducing operational costs by buying more energy or water efficient equipment, more fuel efficient vehicles, and reducing packaging waste from suppliers.
Responsible purchasing can also be connected with specific corporate environmental and social commitments such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing supplier diversity or buying from local businesses.
In addition to the environmental labels used by consumers, professional purchasers have additional tools to facilitate responsible purchasing. One important tool for many purchasers is the formal sustainability purchasing policies organizations use to publicly declare their intent.
A few examples of public sustainable purchasing commitments include:
An environmental product declaration (EPD) is a standardized reporting format for validated sustainability data. It is a report analogous to the nutrition label on a box of cereal. It provides purchasers with key metrics such as the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a product or the water intensity of the manufacturing process. It can also include information on human health and social impacts.
While too complicated for the typical consumer, EPDs are being used by professional purchasers to help organizations measure and improve their sustainability footprints.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which enforces U.S. truth-in-advertising law based on its recently revised Green Guides, continues to identify companies making misleading environmental claims.
Recent FTC cases include:
Anyone interested in buying greener, more sustainable products should look for independent, third-party proof from well-known and well-respected organizations for any environmental or human health claim.
And it is working.
Companies chasing profits from sustainability-minded customers are now competing to improve their own sustainability and to make more sustainable products. Buying greener, healthier, more sustainable products is one way we can all improve our own lives while contributing to the greater good.
Image courtesy of UL Environment
Scot Case has been researching and promoting effective green marketing and responsible purchasing since 1993 and was co-author of the original “Sins of Greenwashing” study and advisor to subsequent editions. He is the Market Development Director for UL Environment. Contact him via Twitter: @scotcase, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or in Reading, PA, at 610-781-1684. This article represents the views of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the views of UL Environment or its affiliates or subsidiaries. This article is for general information purposes only and is not meant to convey legal or other professional advice.