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Buying for a better world

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Sustainable procurement means making sure that the products and services we buy are as sustainable as possible – both economically, socially, and environmentally. Photo: UNDP

Procurement accounts for nearly two thirds of UNDP’s spending, and the demand for procurement services is growing. But what is sustainable procurement and how can it contribute to fulfilling UNDP’s mandate and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals?

At first glance, procurement may seem like something that happens in the background – a specialized, technical and potentially narrow part of UNDP’s work. But procurement touches everything from buying office vehicles, health commodities and election materials to procuring energy systems as well as consultancy services.

All these activities combined form a strategic function that is, not only due to its large share of our yearly expenditures, an extremely important part of our work. In our efforts to help countries end poverty and significantly reduce inequalities and exclusion – in parallel with measures to combat climate change – UNDP is striving to adopt more sustainable production and consumption practices.

Sustainable procurement means making sure that the products and services we buy are as sustainable as possible, with the lowest environmental impact and most positive social results. Procurement, therefore, contributes significantly to sustainable development.

Just as an individual can choose to buy sustainably produced goods, so can – and should – an organisation like UNDP. The importance of sustainable consumption has even been highlighted through its own Sustainable Development Goal - Goal 12 .

The 2015-17 UNDP Procurement Strategy represents a commitment by the organization to realize the benefits sustainable procurement offers. As part of the strategy, UNDP procurement will focus on:

  • Incorporating sustainability criteria in the organization’s purchasing evaluations;
  • Developing monitoring mechanisms and assessments to promote vendor compliance in the UNDP supply chain;
  • Stimulating innovation through crowd-sourcing, functional specifications and piloting other innovative technologies;
  • Better Integration of procurement at the project design stage;
  • Promoting and utilizing public-private partnerships with companies that focus on innovation and sustainability; and
  • Enhancing the already high transparency standards in UNDP’s procurement activities. 

In 2015, UNDP included sustainability criteria in a pilot study of 50+ tenders, covering 11 countries and a total spend of US$8.4 million. This year, we want to expand the application of sustainable purchasing criteria and include an additional 20 countries.

As part of the review of the 2015 project, we met with country offices, other UN agencies and Swedish government representatives in a workshop in Malmö, Sweden, to discuss how best to put sustainable procurement into practice on a wider scale. Representatives from Sweden, including the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the National Agency for Public Procurement and the City of Malmö, discussed how Sweden works with these issues. Undoubtedly the avenues for collaboration and knowledge sharing are considerable, as Sweden has undertaken extensive sustainable procurement work in its public sector.

Now, as the world begins work to advance the SDGs, it is important that all our procurement activities meet the necessary sustainability requirements. Our goal should be a global dialogue on sustainable procurement – a not just as a behind-the-scenes activity, but as an impactful, strategic function central to meeting long term development goals and helping to realize the 2030 Agenda.

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