BLOG – Procuring greener: The questions

We continue our blog series with Stuart Budd, Director of Safety, Health & Compliance, as he addresses Green Procurement and the questions we should be asking.

Sustainability is a word well-aligned with healthcare. Whether it’s being able to sustain healthcare provision in the long term or managing healthcare resources sustainably, the phrase means something to everyone who works in the sector. When we look at the healthcare services sector, “sustainability” translates into how efficiently healthcare services are managed and operated while minimising their impact on the environment. Being greener also requires thinking about the first steps of a product’s/service’s life cycle and not only the end, i.e. what happens when we dispose of something? Stuart Budd, SRCL’s Director of Safety, Health & Compliance, shares his tips to help customers procure greener.

  1. Carbon footprint and credentials: Can prospective suppliers demonstrate their environmental efficiencies? Before they can fulfil your requirements by supplying a product or a service, it’s important for you to understand where sustainability sits on their plan. Delivering a sustainable service and operating sustainably as a default can often be very different things.
  2. Quantity vs. contingency: When procuring items with a limited shelf life such as medicines, do you order in bulk to fulfil a “what if” scenario? Contingency planning is necessary, but if the supplier you are procuring from has a robust contingency plan, then any impending risk can perhaps be mitigated. Healthcare organisations are less likely to procure in vast quantities, with a chance of wasting unused products, if their supplier validates their own stock management to meet sudden spikes in market demand.
  3. Recycled vs. virgin materials: If quantities cannot be reduced due to the nature of what you’re procuring, can you procure smarter? For instance, if you need a certain size container to dispose of pharmaceutical waste, you could choose cardboard boxes made from recycled materials instead of boxes made from virgin plastic.
  4. Flat pack vs. bulk: Whenever you order anything you should think of the associated packaging used to transport the product and how efficiently it can be conveyed. For instance, by ordering items which can be flat packed instead of pre or part assembled you eliminate unnecessary associated packaging as well as not transporting mostly empty space, reducing the carbon footprint of the freight.
  5. Single use vs. reusable: We are using more and more single use items in healthcare to minimise the risk of infection but have we gone too far? We are now extending the philosophy to items that never come in contact with the patient. Reusable sharps containers are a case in point. Not only do they meet Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) requirements, safety and compliance requirements, but they also contribute to sustainability and cost savings, making them a wise procurement decision.

By following a greener procurement process we can significantly contribute to the elimination of waste generated in the first place rather than looking to its subsequent safe management. And smarter, greener procurement wholly underwrites sustainable healthcare services.