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Environment and Energy


Overarching aim

To positively influence the sustainability performance of suppliers and the sustainability credentials of the goods and services that we purchase.


  • That central University procurement frameworks are more attractive financially, more environmentally friendly and faster than other routes, and therefore, more institutions use them.

  • To achieve at least level 4 ‘Enhance’ across all themes of the Sustainable Procurement Flexible Framework by December 2015.

  • For institutions to consider sustainability criteria within their procurement activity.

'Sustainable procurement' is considering both environmental and social factors when making a purchasing decision. The aim is to minimise your purchases' environmental and social impacts.

Traditionally, only the upfront cost mattered when choosing what to buy but this initial outlay may not be the largest expense. Whole life costs include this initial outlay but also consider the operational and disposal costs of the product.

The University has also published an Anti-slavery and Human Trafficking policy, in accordance with Section 54(1) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. To ensure compliance with this commitment, the University has revised its standard procurement and contract documentation which now contain warranties to this effect which suppliers and contractors must accept wherever possible.

The University's statement for 2018 can be found here.

What's the greenest item?

The most environmentally sustainable option is to avoid unnecessary purchases. Can you find an alternative elsewhere in the University?

WARPit is the University's free, online tool open to all University of Cambridge members. Upload and find equipment, furniture and other items that are unwanted by their current owners, and take them to your own department. Avoid procurement costs or the cost of a skip, as well as negative environmental impact from waste.


Why should I bother?

'Green' alternatives can be more energy efficient. Initial outlay may be marginally more but the average payback periods from this energy waste minimisation are measured in months, not years.

Waste costs more than you may realise. When you consider the materials, the costs of treatment, energy and wasted labour, you'll find the real price tag on waste is often 5-20 times the cost of disposal.

The conservation of natural resources is becoming increasingly important. If finite resources are not conserved now there will be major scarcity issues in years to come.

Considering the ethical side of your purchases – could they be Fairtrade, or is it possible to buy from organisations with strong social accountability? Read more:

Key quick questions to ask

  • Is the product made in part or wholly from recycled material?
  • Was the product made in the UK?
  • Is the product made from a material that can be recycled after use?
  • How energy and water efficient is the purchase?
  • Can I avoid excessive packaging?
  • Is my existing appliance upgradeable?
  • Is the product easy to dismantle (separating materials is essential for successful recycling)?
  • What are the disposal costs likely to be for the product?
  • Can you track the supply chain to make sure there were strong ethical and environmental practices throughout the creation of the product?
  • Will the supplier take back old items or waste packaging for reuse or recycling?

View our practical help for buying common items here.