The procurement function links the UN system to the market, provides proof of the moral integrity and transparency of the various agencies, whilst also helping to communicate their intrinsic values.
Sustainable procurement is described as:
"A process whereby organizations meet their requirements for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole of life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the Organization, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimizing its impact on the environment."
Careful sourcing is also a key tool in reducing the organization's greenhouse gas emissions, by including resource efficiency as a criterion in the requisition of products and services. Fuel-efficient vehicles, energy-efficient office equipment, building systems that allow better control of energy usage, goods and services with a lower life-cycle climate impact - these are just some examples of measures that can be taken to lower our environmental impacts.
Sustainable procurement, however, is not exempt from criticism. If not correctly and transparently applied, sustainable procurement could unfairly exclude some good suppliers from participating bids and as such be perceived as a disguised barrier to international trade. Also, the trade-offs between environmental, social and economic considerations are not always easy to understand.
It is indeed important that sustainable procurement is applied without distorting markets or skewing suppliers’ access to UN agencies. Instead, it should be introduced gradually and with great attention to local conditions and requirements, and in accordance with respective UN organizations’ governing bodies’ decisions.
Whether, and to what extent, the UN moves towards sustainable procurement (and how) is being discussed by the UN General Assembly. Meanwhile, to facilitate implementation, the SUN unit in UNEP is producing specific procurement guidelines for 10 different product categories, and providing training and information to procurers and requisitioners in several duty stations.
According to the report, Moving Towards A Climate Neutral UN, 21 UN organizations are in the process of introducing, and building capacity on, sustainable procurement. Examples of product categories where sustainable procurement principles are already applied include ICT, cleaning, office stationery, vehicles, furniture, communications hardware and office equipment.
You can find a full list of procurement resources here.
You can find case studies of how different UN organizations are moving to more sustainable procurement practices here.