The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is an operational arm of the United Nations, supporting the successful implementation of its partners’ peacebuilding, humanitarian and development projects around the world, often in some of the most challenging environments.
As a central procurement resource for the United Nations system and its partners, UNOPS procures around $800 million worth of high-quality goods and services each year.
UNOPS strives to make sustainability an integral part of all its procurement practices, as in all areas of its operations. In the latest revision of its Procurement Manual, which guides UNOPS policy in this area, the procurement team have given examples of best practices and guidance to help practitioners advance sustainable procurement in their work.
Four guiding principles underpin UNOPS procurement policy: ensuring best value for money; fairness, integrity and transparency; effective competition; and acting in the best interests of UNOPS and its partners. By applying these principles throughout the procurement process, UNOPS avoids wasting resources, while ensuring the promotion of sustainable development, both for the organization and its partners. Encouraging efficiency, emphasizing quality and optimizing cost savings enables UNOPS to protect the environment, promote social equality and support economic development in its procurement operations.
Image: Report cover
UNOPS adopts a systematic approach to sustainable procurement with sustainability interventions incorporated throughout the entire procurement process. In the UNOPS Procurement Manual, procurers are advised to conduct a sustainability risk assessment. This helps to identify socio-economic and environmental risks, and prioritize actions to address these risks early on in the procurement strategy and planning phases.
Image: Sustainability guidance embedded through the manual
The Procurement Manual urges procurement professionals to consider procurement needs early on in a project or procurement process. Early planning could allow the procurer to reduce the amount of goods or services needed, and encourage them to favour sustainable alternatives. Nives Costa, a sustainability expert at UNOPS, gives an overview of UNOPS approach to sustainable procurement in this video.
The importance of well-defined requirements for the sustainability of the products or services being procured is also highlighted, to ensure that sustainability is factored into both the purchasing decision and the evaluation. These requirements may include reference to the UN Sustainable Procurement Guidelines, which recommend, among other things: requirements for specific eco-labels; product, process, or performance standards; provision of after-sale services; health and safety considerations; and employment of local labour. Furthermore, UNOPS requires a life-cycle analysis for certain commodities with high environmental and socio-economic impacts, including vehicles, generators, indoor and outdoor lighting, and information communication technology (ICT) equipment.
The Procurement Manual requires the procurer to carry out an analysis of the market during the sourcing process. This allows the procurer to determine the availability of suppliers that meet the stipulated sustainability requirements. As such, procurers will be better positioned to identify suppliers that place a high value on sustainability. Consulting the UN Global Compact list of participants and suppliers certified according to social and environmental standards is encouraged, with particular emphasis on outreach to small- and medium-sized enterprises and minority-owned businesses via local languages and local media.
Provisions for best practice on sustainable procurement have also been introduced in UNOPS standard solicitation methods. The Request for Proposal (RFP) methodology, for example, enables extra points to be assigned to a share of non-mandatory but desired sustainability requirements in the cumulative analysis of offers. Procurers may also use pre-bid meetings during the solicitation phase to elaborate on their sustainability expectations. It is on these sustainability expectations that suppliers would be continuously monitored and assessed against during the contract management phase of any procurement process. Procurers are also encouraged to incorporate sustainability into their transport and logistics activities. This is commonly done by assessing the environmental and economic impacts of different modes of transport, or requiring freight forwarders to use packaging made with a specific percentage of recycled content.
Image: sustainability criteria are part of the technical evaluation of a Request for Proposal
As the final, crucial phase in the procurement cycle, particular emphasis is placed on contract management. This is where sustainability benefits are actually delivered and where key performance indicators are assessed and monitored. What is critical to this phase is open communication with suppliers on sustainability expectations, as well as continuous follow up based on agreed milestones and checkpoints. Sustainability expectations might include the implementation of an environmental management system in cases where one does not already exist. As part of achieving this, procurers could agree on specific milestones with suppliers such as requiring them to reduce the amount of waste diverted from landfill by a particular percentage at particular points in time. Thus with sustainability interventions included in all phases of the procurement process, UNOPS ensures a holistic approach to sustainable procurement. As a result, partners benefit from efficient, transparent, cost-effective and sustainable delivery of goods, services and works. UNOPS is continuously looking for ways to further embed sustainability into all of its procurement processes. UNOPS is currently developing the next revision of its procurement policy, which will be issued later this year. For sustainability-related questions, comments or feedback, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org