Publication - Advice and guidance

Carbon in production: sustainable procurement guidance

Guidance for public bodies covering the procurement of products that are known to be energy/carbon intensive in their production.

Contents
Carbon in production: sustainable procurement guidance
Overview

Climate change: carbon in production 

This guidance is concerned with the procurement of products that are known to be energy/carbon intensive in their production. 

This can include textiles, food, electrical and electronic equipment, furniture, construction, plastics, chemicals, steel, aluminium, cement, ceramics and paper. It can also include non-generic commodities such as medical devices, pharmaceuticals, laboratory equipment and others. 

This document provides guidance on how to consider environmental impact and energy consumption, including the reduction of embodied carbon at the relevant stages of the procurement process.

Description of risk/opportunity

Is the production/manufacture of products procured heavily dependent on energy and resource consumption and/or is there an opportunity to require suppliers to demonstrate how they can minimise energy/resource intensity of the production process?

For example products procured from manufacturers which are known to be energy and resource (and therefore carbon) intensive include textiles, food, electrical and electronic equipment, furniture, construction, plastics, chemicals, steel, aluminium, cement, ceramics and paper.

Role of procurement

Contract suitability and market capacity to meet a specific requirement need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Preliminary market consultation is crucial to be able to determine whether the market is capable of delivering a specific energy and resource use requirement or whether requiring such would place too large a burden on suppliers.    

Embodied carbon refers to carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacture, transport and construction of building materials, together with end of life emissions. So for example, if you are specifying concrete on a project then carbon will have been emitted making that concrete.

Their emissions occur during extraction of the raw materials (the cradle), processing in a factory (factory gate), transporting the concrete to a construction site (site). This we refer to as the ‘embodied’ carbon.

Embodied energy is an accounting method which aims to find the sum total of the energy necessary for an entire product life-cycle. Determining what constitutes this life-cycle includes assessing the relevance and extent of energy used:

  • raw material extraction
  • transport
  • manufacture
  • assembly
  • installation
  • disassembly
  • deconstruction and/or decomposition as well as human and secondary resources

The fundamental issue is whether the embodied carbon can be reduced by making changes through the life cycle, or whether there is a product that can provide the same function that has a lower value of embodied carbon. 

This is particularly relevant in construction materials as according to the European Commission these are responsible for almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, some of the core materials such as metals and plastics are relevant to other categories of expenditure including furniture and carpets. 

Where it is known that certain categories or commodities are energy and carbon intensive in their production, for example textiles, food, electrical and electronic equipment, furniture, construction, plastics, chemicals, steel, aluminium, cement, ceramics and paper, it may be appropriate to require suppliers to demonstrate how they seek to minimise energy, carbon (and potentially others issues such as waste) in the manufacturing and associated process. Ensure that your requirements are relevant and proportionate according to the subject matter of the contract.  

Many procurers have used life cycle impact mapping which is a simple matrix used to identify economic, social and environmental impacts at each stage in the product or service and address these in the procurement process. It requires users to consider the impact of the requirement at each stage in its life, for example the economic, social and environmental impact of mineral extraction at the raw material phase or the impact on providers, users and environment during use of the product or service. 

It is important to note that data for the embodied carbon within many products is not routinely available, an increasing number of suppliers have published such data but it is not widespread across all categories/commodities and sectors. It can be a costly and complex process to determine such data, for example, the cost of conducting an independently verified carbon footprint for a product is around £10-15k. If the scope and boundary are set correctly when obtaining such data, the results can be used when bidding for multiple procurements.

Disclaimer: This guidance is provided to support the embedding of relevant and proportionate contract/framework requirements and the information and examples are provided in good faith. To the extent that this guidance contains any information concerning procurement law such information does not constitute advice to you.

The content of this guidance is not to be construed as legal advice or a substitute for such advice, which you should obtain from your own legal advisers if required. Scottish Government is not and shall not be held responsible for anything done or not done by you as a result of this guidance.