Skip to Main Content

Sustainable Purchasing Demystified

Sustainable Purchasing Demystified

Last week at Green Tourism Canada, we received an email from a member about sustainable purchasing. She was wondering if we had a list of “green suppliers” in her area that she could consider purchasing from. I decided to pick up the phone to share some simple concepts she could apply when trying to purchase goods and services more sustainably.

Here they are: 5 steps to help make your purchasing decisions more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. Tackle one or do them all, and improve the sustainability performance of your business today.


Step 1: Figure out how much of your purchasing is “local”
Supporting local suppliers is good for your local economy by keeping your dollars circulating in your community, region, or province. It can also offer local environmental and social benefits, such as reduced carbon footprint and pollution, employment, and job creation.

Local can be a broad term, so try prioritizing like this:

  1. Local – owned and operated within your city or town
  2. Regional – owned and operated within your region
  3. Provincial – owned and operated within your province
  4. Franchise – provincial, national, or international franchise owned by a local
  5. National – owned and operated within your country

To get started, ask your bookkeeper or accountant to print off a list of your top 10 suppliers/vendors based on how much you spend with them annually. This is a very simple exercise in most accounting software.

Once you have this list, make a note of how local each of your top vendors are, using the definitions above. If you’re not sure about who is local or not, consider sending out a short questionnaire to your suppliers (more on that later).

If you want a fun exercise for your team, download our free Supplier Inventory Mapping Exercise.


Step 2: Figure out how much of your purchasing is “sustainability certified”
Vendors and suppliers who have made the effort to have the products and services they offer certified by an outside party demonstrates their credibility and their commitment to sustainability.

There are many certifications and labels for different types of products and services, but here are few of the common and most credible ones (you can find a few examples on our Partners page):

  • Carbon Neutral – variety of businesses and their products or services
  • Certified B Corporation – variety of businesses and their products or services
  • Certified Organic – primarily food and textiles
  • Fair Trade – primarily food
  • Forest Stewardship Council – paper and paper products
  • Green Tourism Certified – your fellow tourism operators
  • LEED Certified – buildings/venues

Take your vendors list and figure out what products and services you purchase from each. Then determine which ones have a sustainability related certification. If you purchase a tonne of products, focus on the ones that you purchase the most of to start.


Step 3: Figure out how much of your purchasing meets the five R’s: Reduce, Repair, Repurpose, Reuse, Recycle
Can you stop buying stuff you don’t really need? Do you buy a lot of disposables or make an effort to stay away from single-use products? Do you look for gently used products before buying new? Do you buy quality items that last longer and can be repaired or donated instead of throwing in the trash? Do you purchase products that can be recycled at the end of their useful life?

Usually, steering clear of disposable products (think paper coffee cups, plastic water bottles, etc.), will save you money over the long term. There may be an upfront investment to begin, but there is most often a return on investment over a period of time, from the reduced ongoing expense of purchasing disposable products as well as the reduced ongoing costs of hauling away your garbage and recycling.


Step 4: Set a goal and create a plan
What percentage of your purchasing meets one or more of the considerations above? How realistic is it for you to improve this by 10%, 20%, 30% in the next 1-3 years? Unless you’re in a long-term contract with these suppliers and vendors, identify what options are available that are:

  • More local. For example, if you’re purchasing office supplies from a big box supplier, is there a locally or provincially owned option that will give you similar service and selection?
  • Sustainability certified. For example, are you purchasing coffee for your staff or guests? Check with your supplier to find out if they offer a Certified Organic and/or Fair Trade option. If not, check with their competition.
  • Helping you meet the five R’s. For example, do you offer your employees Styrofoam or paper cups in a lunch area? If so, banish these and buy some branded reusable water bottles and coffee mugs. Also, try setting up a bin or area for a local non-profit to pick up used goods that still have some life in them.

Do it now. Write a to-do list of five things you are going to change about your purchasing, who will be responsible, and when it is to be done. Set a reminder in one month to check in. Have these changes been made? Set follow up reminders until they’re done!


Step 5: Get buy-in. Draft a One-Page Sustainable Purchasing Policy

You can go crazy and write a book if you wish, but if you’re like most people in the tourism business – you’re busy! We say a “draft” purchasing policy because we know that you will gain more support and participation in any plan if you ask for ideas and input from the people that are going to have to be a part of making it happen.

Your policy should have these sections at minimum:

  1. Title
  2. Brief statement of why this is important to your business
  3. Purchasing criteria to consider, in order of importance to your business. If the five R’s are the most important to you, put these first. If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, looking for local or carbon neutral products should be the first criteria.
  4. List of preferred vendors for your most commonly purchased products/services.

Note re: suppliers and vendors – If you need more information about what vendors offer when it comes to sustainability, ask them! Send a short and sweet sustainable procurement email to your top 10 vendors (or all of them if you’re energetic), and ask them five simple questions:

  • Where is your business headquartered?
  • Are you a franchise?
  • Do you have any green or sustainable certifications?
  • How will you help my company reduce waste, energy, carbon, or water?
  • Do you have any other environmental, social, or cultural practices that you want us to know about?

View original article by Green Tourism Canada