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We're empowering more sustainable purchasing decisions.

Purchasing decisions have significant direct and indirect sustainability impacts. Understanding and integrating environmental and social considerations into procurement can make better decisions that factor in long-term operating costs, efficiency, and risk management, reduce environmental impact within and beyond the campus, and improve Waterloo's corporate social responsibility throughout the supply chain

Sustainable procurement is by no means easy. It requires rethinking the way things are typically bought, and sometimes questioning the decision to buy something at all. Employees have an important role to play in purchasing on campus, and we hope these resources and guidelines help to empower sustainable choices:

Guiding principles

Every product and purchase is different, but the following are some key considerations that will help make the most sustainable purchasing decision. The combinations of these strategies can be applied to almost all product purchases.
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Minimize unnecessary purchases

The product that doesn’t need to be purchased has the lowest environmental footprint! Ensure that there are no pre-existing products or resources that can fill the need.

Some resources to consider:

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Consider lifecycle costs

Upfront purchase price is not the only cost to consider. Ongoing costs for energy, waste, or consumables can sometimes cost more than the product itself, so consider lifecycle costs when making a decision.

Some resources to consider:

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Buy credibly certified products

Look for reputable eco-logos or certifications for products that reduce environmental impact, issued by third-party suppliers.

Some resources to consider:

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Buy circular

A circular economy is one that reuses materials and minimizes waste. Look for recycled content, durability and ability to be repaired, recyclable packaging, and take-back or reuse programs.

Some resources to consider:

  • 4RepairKW repair workshops
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Buy from green suppliers 

Consider supporting vendors and suppliers who are embedding sustainability in their own practices and supply chains. Note, this is done automatically for large purchases (>$100,000).

Some resources to consider:

Purchasing guidelines

Specific resources and guidelines have been developed for key product purchases on campus, including cleaning products, furniture, IT, office supplies, and paper. Additional categories will be added over time. 

Learn more

Still have questions? Explore some definitions and additional resources for more information.

If your department is scoping out an RFP (Request for Proposal) and would like support, please contact Mat Thijssen at the Sustainability Office ( 

Glossary of terms

  • Circular economy: A model of production and consumption which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible to extend the lifespan of a product or service (European Parliament, 2016).
  • Life cycle assessment: A tool for assessing the environmental impacts associated with the entire life cycle of a product or service, from resource extraction to waste (end-of-life), which is used to promote sustainable development by considering all the direct and indirect impacts across a product’s lifespan (Brusseau, 2019).
  • Greenwashing: False claims regarding the environmental initiatives a product, service or company is conducting; marketing oneself as more sustainable than they are. 
  • Sustainable procurement: The environmental, social, and economic sustainability of a product’s life cycle is factored into product or service purchasing decisions, with the goal of minimizing environmental degradation and promoting a circular economy model.
  • Total cost of ownership: Placing a single measurable value on the entire lifecycle of a product or service, encompassing every stage of ownership, including but not limited to the direct costs of acquisition, operation, maintenance and end-of-life disposal, as well as indirect costs such as training, risk management, storage costs and more.


Many organizations can make claims of being environmentally friendly or eco-conscious. Sometimes these are valid, and other times they can be misleading – something known as “greenwashing”. These tips can help to avoid greenwashing when attempting sustainable procurement.

  • Hidden trade-offs: There may be focus on certain features of a product/service while ignoring other environmental issues. An example is paper from sustainably harvested forests that also uses chlorine or bleach in the pulp process. The sustainable harvesting practices may be commendable, but the paper processing is environmentally damaging and produces GHGs.
  • No proof: There should be a third-party certification or accessible supporting information for any environmental claims to be valid. For example, some organizations will use their own certification that is not verified by a third party to give the impression of accurate environmental claims.
  • Vagueness: Poorly defined or broad claims can be easily misinterpreted by consumers. For example, a product that claims to be “green”, “natural”, and “eco-friendly” lack any universally accepted definitions.
  • False labels: A product that displays wording or images that give the impression of a third-party endorsement where one does not exist. This can come in many forms, such as a self reporting “fair trade” certification, or “Organic” sticker that is not verified by a third party.
  • Irrelevance: An environmental claim that may be true but is not helpful/beneficial to the consumer, or where the supposed impact is trivial. For example, products identified as being CFC-free have no need to label this as chlorofluorocarbons have been banned in Canada under the Montreal Protocol since 1996.
  • Lesser of two evils: This environmental claim may be true but also may distract the consumer from the more pressing environmental impacts of the product. For example, organic tobacco in cigarettes may have better farming practices, but the product itself still has a multitude of health and environmental impacts.
  • Fibbing: Sometimes, products or organizations will make environmental claims that are completely false. The most common example of this is a false claim to be ENERGY STAR® certified/registered or Certified Organic.

Additional resources

  • UW Procurement webpage: For information related to sustainable procurement on campus, with links to suppliers, tools, calculators, contacts and more.
  • Campus Waste Sorting Guide: A database for sorting waste materials according to the waste sorting system on campus.
  • EcoLabel Index: A database of global sustainability-focused certifications and standards to look for.
  • HP Canada Sustainability Buyers Guide: A resource that assists buyers with choosing more environmentally friendly and energy efficient options.
  • Staples E-Way:The University of Waterloo’s main office supplier has a filter to view only “Green” products. There is also an “Eco-Friendly” product tab under the main “Products” drop down menu.
  • United Nations Procurement Practitioner’s Handbook: A broad guideline for promoting sustainable procurement practices that enhances the environmental, economic and social sustainability of an organization.
  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS): Canada’s national hazard communication standard. The key elements of the system are hazard classification, cautionary labelling of containers, the provision of (material) safety data sheets ((M)SDSs) and worker education and training programs. It is currently undergoing a transition to align and unify hazard classification and communication with other standards.