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Scarce materials: sustainable procurement guidance

Guidance for public bodies when buying products containing scarce or unsustainable materials.

Scarce materials: sustainable procurement guidance

Scarce materials

This guidance is concerned with the procurement of products or services that contain materials that are known to be scarce or unsustainable. 

It is part of a series of guides which support the sustainable procurement duty tools to help public sector organisations embed sustainability into their procurement processes.

Description of risk or opportunity

  • does the product or service procured potentially include the use of materials that are known to be scarce or unsustainable/critical raw materials (CRMs)?
  • are there opportunities to minimise the use of such materials or use sustainably managed materials?


Materials known to be scarce or unsustainable/critical raw materials (CRMs) include timber and water, and minerals such as:

  • antimony (used in flame proofing and glass)
  • gallium (used in semi-conductors)
  • magnesium (used in chemicals, medicine and fertilisers)
  • tantalum (used in electronics/electronic equipment)
  • rare earth metals/elements (used in magnets, batteries and steel)

Other materials where supply chain risks are emerging include:

  • copper (used as a building material and in electrical wiring)
  • indium (used in semi-conductors and glass)

CRMs are particularly important for sectors/industries and emerging innovations such as ICT, furniture, automative, renewable energy, defence, high tech products and construction.

The above information is not exhaustive.

Minimising risk

There are a range of materials whose scarcity poses a significant risk to Scottish business and there are several approaches to minimising these risks:

  • minimising use/using alternative materials - wherever possible strive to reduce the overall amount of materials used, reduce the amount of primary or new material resources used by replacing these with reused or recycled materials 
  • effective production techniques - any virgin materials used must be sustainably sourced and through the management of renewable material resources and minimising the impacts of extracting non-renewable resources
  • effective recovery through closed loop systems - use materials as efficiently and sustainably as possible, preserving their value as long as possible, and recovering them wherever possible

A circular economy approach has the potential to preserve valuable raw materials by ensuring that materials are retained within productive use, in a high value state, for as long as possible. It focuses on reshaping business and economic systems so that waste is ‘designed out’ of how we live.

It is important that when materials risks or opportunities are identified, that the options available are understood. This can be achieved through gathering market intelligence and supplier engagement.

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 contents 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.