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.

Carbon in production: sustainable procurement guidance
Specification and award criteria

Specification and award criteria

Technical specifications need to relate to characteristics of the particular work, supply or service being purchased, and not to the general capacities or qualities of the operator – a procurer should only include those requirements which are related to the production of the good, service or work being purchased, rather than those which relate to the general practices or policies of the operator.

Useful information exists in the form of embodied energy and embodied carbon databases such as the one created by WRAP. This can help a buyer assess the relevant embodied carbon values of construction materials and can contribute to the evaluation of alternatives.

Additional construction materials are listed in the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Green Guide to Specification which assesses materials and components in terms of their environmental impacts, within comparable specifications, across their entire life cycles. Zero Waste Scotland has developed an online interactive guide: Procuring resource efficient construction projects to reduce waste, and enhance re-use and recycling, through design and resource efficiency for construction, renovation and demolition. 

Buyers should first consider whether the products required could be of a lower embodied carbon design before creating the specification, for example could wood wool insulation be used rather than fibreglass or could wood be used in furniture instead of steel frames and if not could the steel be recycled. For a construction specification the following requirement could be included: 

‘Identify the [5-10] most significant and cost-effective opportunities to reduce the embodied carbon emissions associated with the project (for example, through leaner design, designing out waste, reusing materials, and selecting materials with lower embodied carbon over the project life-cycle), quantify the savings made through individual design changes, and report actions and outcomes.’ 

Either of the examples below can be used in a specification to highlight the technical requirement to meet sustainability criteria for embodied carbon. Buyers should also consider opportunities to reduce embodied carbon through end of life issues and packaging.  

‘All materials offered must demonstrate that embodied carbon has been considered and reduced wherever possible.’ Or: 

‘All plastic parts ≥ 50g shall be marked for recycling according to ISO 11469 or equivalent and must not contain additions of other materials that may hinder their recycling.’ 

In setting out the award criteria in the specification, it is important to conceptualise these by including an overview of the contractual conditions the contracting authority will be including in the final contract. It is important to be as specific as possible when setting out what benefits you expect to achieve or requirements you intend to impose on the contract so as to limit the uncertainty for suppliers.   

Award criteria are used to determine which economic operator is best placed to deliver a contract. A contracting authority has discretion to determine what award criteria to apply but questions asked at this stage cannot duplicate questions already asked at the selection stage. This is because at this stage suppliers are being assessed on the merits of tenders themselves rather than their suitability to tender. The criteria should allow objective comparison of tenders, be published in advance in the procurement documents and not discriminate/favour potential contractors. Below are examples of questions specific to energy and resource use and associated carbon emissions: 

'Please describe your approach to environmental sustainability, including details of any specific steps taken in the design and manufacture of services to reduce embodied carbon and any other relevant detrimental environmental impacts, and detail how this will be applied to this tender.' 

'Where relevant and proportionate to the goods or services being procured as part of this tender, please describe how you will measure & monitor the carbon footprint of those goods or services using accredited methodology such as ISO 14076 and/or PAS 2050.'