Good practice

Embedding sustainability in procurement practices: a UK museum’s perspective

Embedding sustainability in procurement practices: a UK museum’s perspective
©, #131870191, 2018, source:
Energy, Materials, Water, Waste, Carbon
Office and administration, Other, Service sector
Size of company:
Medium (less than 250)
Advancement in applying resource efficiency measures:
Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced

The natural way to zero waste...

  • London museum seeks to establish a sustainable procurement policy and strategy
  • Received support for six projects to help them embed sustainability into their procurement process, procedures and contract specifications

The Natural History Museum in London recognises that its procurement decisions can significantly impact on the sustainability of its organisation and supply chains. With procurement being decentralised, there was a need to establish a sustainable procurement policy and strategy, to help consistently articulate the Museum’s objectives and ensure they are embedded in future procurements.

The European Pathway to Zero Waste (EPOW) programme seeks to deliver practical ways of achieving zero waste to landfill in the South of England. The EPOW team supported the Museum on six projects, to help them embed sustainability into their procurement process, procedures and contract specifications and successfully influenced around € 39.23 million (£ 35m) procurement commitment in corporate policy, and € 1.8 million (£ 1.6m) in tenders and contracts.

The projects can be summarised as follows:

Project 1: Sustainable procurement policy and strategy

Context: the Museum’s primary objective was to build on its new procurement and environmental policies, by developing a sustainable procurement policy and strategy, which clarifies how procurement can help the Museum achieve its sustainability targets and objectives. This included gaining the commitment of senior management to develop and approve the policy and strategy, reviewing existing environmental and procurement policies, strategies and environmental management systems to identify interdependencies, align objectives and targets.

Project 2: Sustainable procurement policy and strategy

With a decentralised procurement team, there was recognition of the importance of developing a common approach to procurement in order to realise the financial and environmental benefits of procuring more sustainable products and services. An internal sustainable procurement guidance document was produced to clarify the approach to be taken to highlight and realise the opportunities that exist across the procurement process.  

The Museum has a bespoke guidance document that can be given to all procurement staff, providing them with an overview of what they can do in their day-to-day role to realise financial and environmental benefits through the sustainable procurement of products and services.

Project 3: Uniform contract specification

The Museum wanted to engage its supply base to identify opportunities for procuring more sustainable uniforms for its employees. Key to this was the development of a specification that included its sustainability requirements when it re-tendered the contract for the supply of workwear. 

The workwear briefing document was reviewed and a number of recommendations made. The Museum used this information requested of suppliers to appoint one who responded fully to the sustainability section of the specification. Specifically, the chosen supplier provided expertise in organic and fair-trade cotton, addressed ways to reduce packaging and recycling at end of life requirements, and continues to work closely with the Museum to reduce its impact on the environment.

Project 4: Construction contract specification

Construction procurement documentation was reviewed and a number of recommendations made on how sustainability should be included in the tender process.  These included a pre-qualification questionnaire to understand measures taken by the supplier to reduce its sustainability impacts within the last three years and the relevant experience of delivering sustainable development outcomes in similar projects. The invitation to tender (ITT) required suppliers to provide a statement detailing how they would approach a number of sustainability requirements, and a suggested sustainability schedule was provided as part of the contract process.

Once the recommendations are embedded into the construction procurement procedures, the Museum is able to select suppliers who can meet its sustainability requirements for any future construction works, whilst delivering value for money.

Project 5: Exhibition contract

A new framework for exhibition designers was being drafted and the Museum required assistance to develop the sustainability objectives. The Museum identified the sustainability impacts associated with exhibitions and, using the identified sustainability impacts, recommendations were made for inclusion in the new framework.

With the sustainability impact recommendations added to the exhibition framework, the Museum has a shortlist of suppliers that can construct exhibitions to a high quality whilst meeting the Museum’s sustainability requirements.

Project 6: Waste and recycling contract

The Museum wanted to develop waste management specification and contract that helped it meet its internal waste reduction targets, as part of the re-tendering exercise for its waste management services. Following a review, a number of recommendations were included in the specification requiring suppliers to demonstrate in their tender responses how they would approach a number of key sustainability criteria.

With the sustainability recommendations added to the waste and recycling contract procedures, the Museum ia able to select service providers that can help meet the Museum’s waste and recycling targets in its environmental management system.  

Key actions

  • Develop a sustainable procurement policy and strategy
  • Provide guidance for staff on how to procure within the policy and strategy
  • Consider sustainability early
  • Understand what the market is able to offer
  • Review and embed sustainable requirements within procurement documentation
  • Include monitoring and reporting as part of contract requirements.

Key benefits

  • Align procurements with policy and strategy
  • Improve sustainable specification
  • Realise cost savings
  • Reduce waste to landfill
  • Regular monitoring and reporting against sustainability targets and objectives
  • Identify items for re-use

Overall, the case study illustrated how the adoption and implementation of sustainable public procurement strategies, standards, and targets are stimulating greater demand for recycled materials, re-useable/refurbished products, and for products with lower waste impacts.


“The EPOW project has provided the Museum with an excellent opportunity to gain from specialist expertise and experience to improve our sustainable procurement practices. Without the fully funded EPOW project, the Museum could not have benefited from professional support and would not receive the lasting benefits of the comprehensive review of our sustainable procurement policy. In addition, the valuable experience has made a significant improvement to the sustainable elements of recent and forthcoming contracts. The efficient and targeted work of the consultants ensured a number of pieces of work could be delivered for the Museum over the duration of the project.” -- Ellie Simes, Environmental & Sustainability Officer, Natural History Museum

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