The United Nations Environment Programme recently released the 3rd edition of its Sustainable Public Procurement Global Review, providing important insight into the current state of sustainable procurement worldwide.

More expansive than the earlier editions from 2013 and 2017, the latest Sustainable Public Procurement Global Review tracks progress in sustainable procurement policy-making, implementation and monitoring efforts among national governments, private enterprises and international organisations, identifying common challenges and emerging trends. It also explores the role of supporting organisations and offers key recommendations on sustainable procurement mainstreaming. Data for this publication was collected via two surveys carried out in 2021 on the sustainable procurement activities of 314 organisations and 45 national governments and enriched with insights from interviews with 26 sustainable procurement experts. 

Findings suggest that ecolabels, standards and certifications continue to factor in among the key drivers for sustainable procurement and have held steady in the top five ranking of “emerging sustainable procurement topics, strategies and activities, as shown in Figure 1.  

Figure 1. Ranking of emerging sustainable procurement topics, strategies and activities among survey respondents 

The importance of ecolabels is also evident across a regional data analysis, with ecolabels, standards and certificationsidentified among the top three emerging sustainable procurement topics for all five world regions. 

Figure 2. Regional comparison of emerging sustainable procurement topics 

These trends will likely continue as data points to increased organisational investment in sustainable procurement implementation and professionalisation compared to five years ago. Since identifying products and services that meet sustainability criteria can be challenging for individuals on the frontlines of implementing sustainable procurement, ecolabels are one tool purchasers can use to quickly identify products that meet their organisation’s sustainability criteria.  

To better understand the application of ecolabels, survey participants were asked: “How are product ecolabels used today by procurement entities in your organisation? (Select all that apply).” Although some countries do not allow for ecolabel mandates, survey respondents reported that 18% of their organisations required ecolabels as a “mandatory” criterion for product purchases (see Figure 3). Approximately 45% reported they used ecolabels as a “reference tool to create product or service purchasing criteria.” Moreover, 39% used ecolabels as “a means to verify claims that a product, service or contractor meets purchasing criteria.” By contrast, 21% of respondents indicated that ecolabels were not used in their organisations’ procurement decisions. 

Figure 3. Use of eco-labels 


As in the 2017 Sustainable Public Procurement Global Review, ecolabels continue to be used mainly as a source to define sustainable procurement criteria and as a verification tool of compliance with set criteria. 

Survey participants were also asked about their use of sustainability processes and management standards more generally: “How are sustainability processes and management standards used today by procurement entities in your organisation? (Select all that apply).” Figure 4 describes survey responses. Consistent with the results of ecolabels, most respondents indicated that their organisation used processes and management standards either as “a reference tool to create product or service purchasing criteria” (42%) or “a means to verify claims that a product, service or contractor meets purchasing criteria” (30%). A smaller number of respondents (20%) suggested that their organisation did not use sustainability processes or management standards. 


Regional analysis reveals that respondents with organisations in Northern America (40%) and Europe (35%) more commonly use ecolabels as a verification means, while those in West Asia and Africa  (43%), Asia Pacific (37%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (35%) more often use them as reference tools to create product or purchasing criteria.  

For further insight into the state of play of sustainable procurement worldwide, please see the Sustainable Public Procurement Global Review. The supplement “Factsheets on Sustainable Public Procurement in National Governments” includes 45 country factsheets detailing the sustainable public procurement policy frameworks, priorities and implementation activities in place in each country. 


Authored by: Agnes Wierzbicki, United Nations Environment Programme 

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