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The University is a large consumer of goods and services. Each purchase has a consequence resulting from the combined impact of the manufacture, transport, use and disposal of that product. The information on this page has been developed as a guide to UTAS purchasers in considering environmental issues in procurement decision making.  

Sustainable procurement is now included as a key consideration in the University's procurement policy (see the policy, procedures and guidelines page on the University website).

Congratulations to the University's procurement staff who have already demonstrated a significant change in making more environmentally sound purchasing decisions as shown in the graphs below. Just from one supplier alone (for office consumables), the University went from less than 10% of total spend on sustainable products in 2008 to over 31% in 2016 (with a high of 39% in 2013). 

Graphs of expenditure on earth saver products and paper use at the University. Trend for paper use is declining. Earth-saver products expenditure was highest in 2013.

What is sustainable procurement?

Recycled-plastic seatingSustainable 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 in terms of generating benefits not only to the organisation but also to society and the economy, while minimising damage to the environment (UK Sustainable Procurement Task Force 2006).

Benefits of sustainable procurement

The University has much to gain from making more sustainable choices in procurement decisions. Sustainable procurement sees a shift from purchasing goods services, utilities and works under conventional procurement criteria of price and quality, to incorporating triple bottom line outcomes.

Use existing before buying new

The Re-Use Program is an electronic catalogue of items available for re-purposing throughout the University. This scheme is being progressively expanded across campuses and helps to make sure that items no longer required in one area are internally redistributed rather than being disposed of. 

The key benefits for organisations from sustainable procurement practices are:

Incorporating sustainability principles into procurement decisions makes sound economic sense and is not just a 'feel-good' factor.  Sustainable products represent value for money in real dollar terms when life cycle costs are considered, such as:
  • using less energy and water (running costs)
  • generating less waste during operation (disposal cost)
  • being longer lasting and requiring less maintenance (maintenance and replacement costs)
  • having capacity to upgrade, reuse, resell or recycle at end of life (replacement and disposal costs)
  • being safer to use, e.g. fewer toxic chemicals (WHS costs and productivity).

By incorporating sustainable procurement, UTAS demonstrates a commitment to achieving sustainability objectives which, in turn, builds goodwill, stimulates local markets to be more sustainable and meets public scrutiny.

Sustainable procurement is an important tool to reduce financial, environmental and reputation risks for organisations. Risk can be reduced by:

  • using or investing in lower impact 'clean' technologies such as new plant and equipment (fulfilling government commitments to environmental sustainability by meeting legislative requirements)
  • sourcing products from reputable suppliers that can demonstrate that they aren't damaging the environment or exploiting workers
  • ensuring purchasing policies benefit the broader community and do not impact on local economies
  • using safer and less toxic products and materials which minimise safety hazards to staff, students and the environment

Sustainable procurement can help an organisation to meet a range of environmental and social goals and objectives:

  • Reducing CO2 emissions through energy efficient construction and transport, choose products with lower carbon footprint throughout lifecycle
  • Air, water quality, resource use, waste generation are all affected through product manufacture, delivery, use, maintenance and disposal
  • Issues such as employment generation, working conditions, child labour and fair trade can be addressed through sustainable procurement.

(NSW Government 2011)

Choosing sustainable products is about trying to find a balance between different characteristics over the life of the product, considering the products supplied and the supplier practices themselves.

See the preferred products guide for UTAS sustainable procurement (PDF 250.6KB).

Question mark1. Demand management
  • Do I really need the item?
  • Can I lease or hire it instead?
  • Can I use less?
  • Can a service be shared with another organisation?
World2. Environmental
  • Is it made from reused, recycled or renewable materials?
  • Does the product use less energy or water in use?
  • Is the product excessively packaged? Can the packaging be recycled?
  • Can the product be reused or recycled once it is obsolete?
  • Will the product require special disposal arrangements? Does it contain hazardous material?
  • Is it biodegradable?
  • How much water and energy was used in the manufacture of the product?
  • Does the manufacturing process and use of the product avoid air and water pollution, soil degradation and negative biodiversity impacts?

Beware of false claims - seek products or brands with independent certification (see eco-labels below).

People3. Social
  • Can the product or service be purchased locally? Is it locally made?
  • Is the product's manufacturer socially responsible (legislative employee obligations, Fair Trade)?
  • What are the work health and safety conditions for labour involved with the production process?
  • Does the product have no or low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxins and pollutants?
Footprint4. Value for money (whole life cycle)
  • How long is the product needed and when will it need to be replaced?
  • Does the supplier have take-back policies (e.g. for ICT equipment)?
  • Does the supplier offer a reliable warranty?
  • Is the product durable? Can it be upgraded?
  • Is the product repairable - is there servicing support, or ease of accessing spare parts?
  • Does the product meet Australian manufacturing and quality standards?
  • Do companies that manufacture the product / provide the service have sustainable principles and practices?
  • Does the product have a short supply line?

It is important to note the maturity of the supply market and market capability, to ensure product performance and servicing meets requirements.



  • Many items are seen as cheap and disposable.
  • Plastics are manufactured from fossil fuels, which are non-renewable, and also have a high embodied energy.
  • Marker pens can contain toxic solvents.
  • Office paper can be manufactured from non-sustainable forests, particularly tropical rainforests in less developed countries.

Desk lampSolutions

  • Buy items that can be reused such as refillable highlighters, marker pens and fountain pens.
  • Source remanufactured toner cartridges.
  • Use office papers that are made from post-consumer recycled content. See the list of recommended office paper types (PDF 203.9KB)
  • Buy items that are recycled and recyclable such as recycled plastic or paper pens, and recycled cardboard files.
  • Use solvent free, water-based adhesives, highlighters, marker pens and correction fluids.

Electronic goods


  • Most electronic items these days have very short life spans (built in obsolescence).
  • Personal items like branded notebooks often cannot be upgraded.
  • Electronic goods contain toxic, hazardous components.
  • Appropriate disposal of these items is expensive.
  • These items have a high resource intensity - made of lots of materials containing wide range of resources.


  • Refer to the online Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT).
  • Source products that can be upgraded.
  • If possible, use suppliers who offer product take-back for recycling schemes.

Cleaning products

Dripping tapIssues

  • Some products contain chemicals which can be irritants or toxic in the long term.
  • Many chemicals in cleaning products have the potential to pollute waterways.


  • Source products that are readily biodegradable, and do not contain phosphates.
  • Avoid products containing phenols, formaldehyde, perchloroethylene and petroleum solvents.
    - The presence of 'chlor' indicates a chlorinated chemical.
    - An ending of 'ene' (i.e. benzene, toluene, xylene) or 'ol' (i.e. benzol, toluol, xylol, glycol, phenol) is likely an indication of a petroleum-based product or coal tar derivative.

Engineering and construction


  • Processes produce a large carbon footprint (energy intensive).
  • Construction is resource intensive, and in the case of steel, copper, oil, etc., uses non-renewable resources.
  • Materials are transported long distances.
  • Some internal furnishings contain toxic chemicals that easily off-gas, which can be harmful to people working in those spaces.


  • Where possible use recycled concrete, recycled glass sand, and recycled plastic pipes for stormwater, etc.
  • Procure products with the lowest amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the highest recycled content, and low or no formaldehyde (paint, carpeting, adhesives, furniture and casework).
  • Look for products using best-practice PVC (polyvinyl chloride), as determined by the Vinyl Council of Australia, for furniture, pipe-work and flooring.