The article highlights the importance of sustainable procurement in the circular economy, the important role of SPP and ecolabels to achieving sustainable, environmental, and social outcomes.

Benefits of Ecolabel Sustainable Public Procurement

The sustainable public procurement (SPP) of Type 1 ecolabels offers valuable prospects for creating positive, sustainable environmental, economic outcomes, and for driving sustainable innovation. As most organisations spend 40 to 80% of their financial resources in their supply chains, procurement is a powerful instrument for organizations wishing to behave in a responsible way and contribute to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

SPP is a process and instrument that largely involves government considering environmental, social, and economic factors when purchasing or tendering for goods and services. SPP may relate to the purchasing of a diverse range of products, such as IT and energy related products, fabrics, and textiles. Zhang Xiaohui from the China Environmental United Certification Center states “SPP is a powerful lever for the government to leverage the green development of economy, with typical public characteristics and huge market-oriented role. It is not only an important measure of purchasing public goods and services, but also an effective policy tool”.

Type 1 ecolabels helps to build the trust of public procurers in SPP and purchasing ecolabels, as they are certified according to ISO 14024: 2018 standard, which establishes the ‘principles and procedures for developing Type 1 environmental labelling programmes’.

SPP and Ecolabels

Sustainable public procurement helps to create and maintain a circular economy, which aims to reduce adverse environmental, social, and economic impacts of brought goods and services throughout its full lifecycle and supply chain. Creating circularity into the economy through sustainable procurement assists the role it can play to increase the move to a greater circular economy and to help shift to greater sustainable patterns of production and consumption.

Ecolabels have an important role in a circular economy and SPP, as they are certified against environmental criteria. For instance, governments, such as the Italian Government, have under their Italian Procurement Code, social and environmental certifications, like ISO Type 1 Ecolabels, which may be utilized as minimum criteria for the supply, as indicated in tender requirements or contract execution.

Zhang Xiaohui from the China Environmental United Certification Center also indicates the procurement of ecolabelling products over the last 17 years has become an “important measure for promoting sustainable development and green economic development. The amount of certified product models has increased from 856 to 1 million, beginning with 14 categories of products to now more than 100 categories. The categories of government procurement of environmental labelling products include office equipment (computer, printer, scanner, projector, multifunctional machine and so on), office consumables (toner cartridges etc.), vehicles, building materials (water-based coatings, water-proof coatings, cement, concrete, etc.), furniture, textiles, plastic pipes, copy paper and so on”.

The South Korean ecolabel is another certification system, enforced by the Korean Ministry of Environment and KEITI (Korea Environmental Industry & Technology Institute). Since its foundation in 1992, the system has granted certifications to a wide range of eco-friendly products, which are excellent in not only environmental properties, but also in products’ quality during their life cycle. For 30 years they have launched about 160 criteria covering construction materials, office equipment, furniture, personal and household goods, etc. Each standard covers verification in environmental and quality properties, such as reduction of the use of harmful substances, energy saving, resource saving, carbon neutrality, resource circulation, etc. As of June 2023, 19,689 products (in 5,057 companies) have been certified. The following table shows the 8 major categories
of ecolabel criteria, the number of certified products, and their percentage. As shown 70% of the certificated products consist of construction materials, office supplies and furniture.

Major Categories Number of Certified Products (Basic Product) Percentage (%)
1. Office Equipment & Furniture (EL101~EL179) 2460 12.5
2. Construction Material (EL207~EL267) 11373 57.8
3. Personal and Household Goods (EL301~EL333) 854 4.3
4. House Item (EL401~EL491) 236 1.2
5. Transportation, Leisure (EL501~EL553) 31 0.2
6. Industrial Product, Equipment (EL602~EL657) 564 2.9
7. Mixed Use and Other (EL701~EL768) 4165 21.2
8. Service (EL801~EL806) 6 0.03


Table: Categories and growth in the SPP of ecolabels which are implemented by KEITI (Korea Environmental Industry & Technology Institute). 

Challenges of SPP 

Amongst the many benefits of SPP, there may also exist particular challenges, relating to the potential lack of industry knowledge of SPP, associated financial costs, and technological and regulatory limitations.

Elina Silvola, an ecolabel specialist from Nordic Swan, states these challenges are due to the complexity of global supply chains, and which SPP poses in the “difficulties in ensuring sustainability across various tiers of subcontracting”. As well, “Procurement organizations sometimes face resource constraints (including lack the necessary time and expertise) when it comes to implementation of sustainable procurement practices. This may lead to a situation where price plays the most significant role in the selection criteria for tenders and qualitative factors take a back seat”.

Claire Hobby, a director from TCO Development, also states “as procurement becomes a more strategic tool for supporting an organization’s sustainability objectives, there is a challenge in knowing what tools are available to support a more sustainable product choice, and most importantly, which of those tools deliver the relevant criteria and verification essential to true environmental and social responsibility progress”.

GEN plays an active role as a key ecolabel organization for meeting the challenges of SPP, by helping to make ecolabels easy to implement for more impactful procurement solutions for people and planet, and in helping to identify credible true and trusted ecolabels for procurement. Indeed, GEN plays a crucial role in supporting better public procurement through the setting of ecolabel standards and criteria, certification assurance, information and awareness, capacity building, advocacy, and collaboration, and by facilitating international cooperation.

The cost of NOT engaging with SPP is also significant to consider, with unsustainable practices and products contributing to high greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation, pollution, and other environmental, economic, and human health costs. For instance, in the context of unsustainable plastic fibres, they are known to be polluting the oceans and wastewater, causing toxic dyes, and resulting in the exploitation of underpaid workers. The SPP of Type 1 ecolabels offers a credible solution to the problem of unsustainable procurement, as certified products are created against important environmental criteria. These are known to have economic benefit over longitudinal timelines and if including the cost of environmental degradation, the savings are clear. For example, the US Government sustainable procurement of computer equipment, including monitors, printers, and personal computers, specifies that it meets the EPA’s Energy Star obligations for energy efficiency. These measures ensure savings on energy over time- as well as help the planet.

Similarly, GEC, as well as other ecolabel programmes, help purchasers procure more sustainable electronic products, and to this end GEC has made a series of resources available to do so, including sustainability impact overviews, State of Sustainability Research, purchaser guides, training, and sample contract language. Perhaps more importantly, purchasers can search the publicly available GEC EPEAT Registry to find EPEAT-registered products that meet their needs across a variety of product categories, including computers and displays, imaging equipment, mobile phones, network equipment, photovoltaic modules and inverters, servers, and televisions.

GEC recently published Climate Criteria which will help purchasers identify electronics with lower climate impacts. Released in May 2023, the Climate Criteria establish requirements that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including contributing to the complex issue of supply chain decarbonization and Scope 3 emission reductions. To find out more, you can explore their case study here.


The SPP of ecolabels does create excellent outcomes for creating significant environmental and social outcomes, throughout the supply chain of products and services. International bodies like the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN), are important in creating further opportunities for SPP, as its global members have ecolabelling programmes that deliver important environmental criteria for the licensing of products and services.
Clare Hobby from TCO Development, states “GEN is uniquely positioned to educate both public and private sector organizations on the essential role of sustainable procurement in moving markets and driving more uptake of the credible ecolabels available to enable the process. Connecting ecolabel use to credible, real impact is essential”. 

Some enablers and solutions for overcoming barriers and driving further SPP of ecolabels may involve various strategies, such as:

  • New partnerships between ecolabel programmes in developed nations with developing
    countries to drive new SPP initiatives;
  • Further funding for research and development to drive innovation in ecolabels and SPP;
  • Targeted public campaigns to drive future consumption of certified ecolabels, and to reduce “greenwashing” activity.

Another strategy may also involve the greater establishment of ecolabel criteria for public/government tenders. “When allowed by the procurement legislation, public procurers can include ecolabel criteria as minimum requirement in procurement specifications as proof of the environmental characteristics of the object being procured. By consistently demanding ecolabel- certified products and services, public procurers can drive market demand for sustainable solutions”. (Elina Silvola from Nordic Swan states)

A whole of life cycle perspective is key as the impacts on people and planet are created at many different stages of a product lifecycle. We need to tend to all of these impacts – not just one, in order to genuinely move towards a greater sustainable world for people and planet. The solutions that ecolabels offer to sustainable public procurement are highly credible and ready, to deliver current & future economic, environmental, and social benefits.

How can you help?

Next Steps

  • Refer to GEN’s website for more information about certified ecolabels in your region,
  • Choose and purchase sustainable products and services that are certified as Type 1 Ecolabels,
  • Lobby your government and its members for greater SPP of ecolabels,
  • Share and promote GEN and member news and campaigns through our social media channels. 

For more information about ecolabels, refer to the GEN website –


Australian Government. 2021. Sustainable Procurement Guide: A practical guide for Commonwealth Entities.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. 2021. Barrier Analysis and Strategies for Ecolabels and Sustainable Public Procurement Implementation.

Global Ecolabelling Network. 2022. ‘What is Ecolabelling?’.

Global Ecolabelling Network. 2022. ‘What is GEN’.

Global Ecolabelling Network. 2023. The Power of Procurement for Planet and People. Website Link

International Green Purchasing Network. A Landscape of Practice to Achieve SCP.

Kim, J. 2012. Introduction of The Korean Eco-Labelling System and Green Procurement [slides]. 

Kirchherr, Julian. Hekkert, Marko. Bour, Ruben. Huijbrechse-Truijens, Anne. Kostense-Smit, Erica. Muller, Jennifer. 2017. Breaking the Barriers to the Circular Economy. Deloitte,

TCO Development. 2023. ‘Five Tips and a new manual help Italian procurers get started’.

Tranchard, Sandrine. 2018. ‘New Version of ISO 14024 on ecolabelling just published’.

United Nations Environment Programme. ‘The environmental costs of fast fashion’.

United Nations Environment Programme. 2018. ‘Building Circularity into our Economics through Sustainable Procurement’.

United Nations Environment Programme. 2022. Sustainable Public Procurement 2022 Global Review: Part II. Diffusion of Sustainable Procurement to the private sector, international organizations and the role of supporting entities.

United Nations Environment Programme. 2021. Sustainable Public Procurement: How to “Wake the Sleeping Giant”.

US Department of Energy. ‘Purchasing Energy-Efficient Computers’.


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