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Purchasing & Packaging

Procurement and packaging decisions have ripple effects that impact the environment both upstream and downstream. The impacts of sustainable procurement can be felt globally, from helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, to improving the livelihoods of small developing world producers through supporting fair trade. Supporting "lean packaging" by altering and refining internal practices and through suppliers, reduces your environmental footprint and has other cost savings benefits. From the difficult to recycle Styrofoam to excessive bubble wrap, packaging is quickly filling up the Hartland landfill and is costly to properly dispose of.

Conducting a purchasing analysis is one of the most effective ways to assess environmental impact. By making sustainable purchasing and packaging decisions, your organization can improve its public image, realize financial savings, facilitate compliance, contribute to global sustainability, and save hours using that exacto-knife! A purchasing analysis is a sure way to benefit from smart changes in your business.

Current recovery rates for packaging are very low, with most packaging waste ending up in a landfill. Nearly 80 million tons of waste is generated from packaging and containers annually. By implementing a sustainable purchasing policy you can minimize landfill waste and transform the supply chain”.
– Environment Canada




Procurement and sustainable procurement should be one and the same”.
– Procura+

Smart purchasing decisions can be as simple as excluding certain chemicals in the tender technical specifications for cleaning products, or as comprehensive as reassessing the entire cleaning plan for your office. No matter where you are in this process, making sustainable purchasing decisions will positively impact your bottom line and improve environmental sustainability.

Seven Steps to a Sustainable Purchasing Program

  1. Re-think your purchase
  2. Choose a durable or longer life product
  3. Choose products or services designed to address specific environmental or social concerns
  4. Rent, lease, or buy it second hand
  5. Choose suppliers committed to sustainability
  6. Calculate the total cost
  7. Reduce transportation impacts

Source: Metro Vancouver Sustainable Purchasing Guide

Sustainable Purchasing Programs

The Procura+ Manual

The Procura+ Manual is designed to provide clear guidance on how to implement sustainable procurement. The manual was prepared by experts in sustainable practices and purchasing. The comprehensive manual touches on all areas of procurement. Although targeted for government offices, the manual gives readers a broad sense of sustainable procurement.

When comparing costs between regular and eco-friendly products, one must consider the lifecycle costs of the product. This includes the costs of purchasing, operating, maintaining, and disposing of the product. With this examination, it becomes clear that although green products often have a higher purchasing price, they end up costing less.

Ocean Wise

Ocean Wise is a program out of the Vancouver Aquarium and is one of the best sustainable seafood programs out there. Ocean Wise works directly with restaurants, markets, food services and suppliers ensuring that they have the most current scientific information regarding seafood and helping them make ocean-friendly buying decisions. By carrying Ocean Wise seafood, you are sending a clear message to your customers that you care about the world’s oceans.

"Currently there are over 300 participating Ocean Wise members, for a total of over 2,700 locations. All of these participants have committed to providing ocean friendly alternatives to their customers."
- Ocean Wise

Some downtown businesses which have partnered with Ocean Wise include: Big Bad John's, Canoe Brew Pub, Maple leaf Adventures, Nautical Nellie’s Steak and Seafood House, Red Fish Blue Fish, The Reef and many more.

Sysco Food Services is an Ocean Wise approved distributer. What’s more, their distribution facility was designed to be energy efficient and they received the 2009 PowerSmart Excellence Award for Innovation in Sustainable Building Design.They recently conducted an ecological impact study to reduce their effluents and toxicity levels.

To join, request an application form from the Oceanwise website. Also check out Oceanwise iPhone App!

Paper Products

"Recycled paper uses 55% less water to produce as compared to virgin paper. Recycled paper also takes 60-70% less energy to produce than paper from virgin pulp."
- Treehugger

Paper plays an integral role in any business. The average office worker goes through 10,000 sheets of 8 ½” x 11” paper per year! Here are some things to look out for when searching for eco-paper:

  • A high percentage of post-consumer content
  • Sourced from alternative fibres such as hemp, kenaf, bagasse, wheatstraw, or rice straw
  • Manufacturers that display their carbon footprint and green initiatives
  • Certifications: FSC (Forest Stewardship Council),
  • Unbleached, chlorine-free processing

Cascades makes paper from FSC certified 100% post-consumer fibers using biogas energy. Their Rolland Enviro100 Print paper can be found at Monk Office.

You can source coreless toilet paper? There is no hard paper roll at the end of its use and they have more paper on each roll, so they are replaced less frequently. Try out the paper calculator, which helps you quantify the benefits of better paper choices.

Gather one-sided paper that would otherwise be recycled, and bind them into notepads. The notepads are cheap, green, and individual! CopyPlus, Monk Office and other downtown paper companies can bind this paper with glue or coil.

Recycled and Post Consumer Products

What's better: recycled or post-consumer? Let’s break this down. Recycled products were likely made from remnants of a production process or from ‘recovered materials’. Although the remnants would have otherwise gone into a landfill, they are considered pre-consumer material. Once a material or finished product has served its intended use and has been diverted or recovered from waste destined for disposal, it is then considered post-consumer material.

Buying post-consumer has a higher environmental value because your purchase is facilitating a closed-loop cycle, ultimately turning end consumer waste into a new product. All in all recycled is good, but post-consumer is better.

Cleaning Products

"Indoor air pollution levels can be up to 100 times higher than outdoor air pollution levels."

Cleaning products are everywhere at work: on countertops, desks, clothes, floors, windows, and floating through the air. Most of the conventional cleaning products are petroleum-based and have dubious health and environmental implications. Instead, opt for non-toxic, biodegradable and pH-balanced cleaning products that are made from renewable resources.


SoapX is a commercial environmental cleaning product line, an extension from The Soap Exchange. All of the cleaning products are bio-degradable, eco-friendly, pH-balanced and naturally derived (manufactured in Saskatchewan).

Synergy supplies and delivers SoapX right to your door. Refilling your empty containers will drastically reducing plastic consumption and will reduce cost. SoapX is also affordable, generally at 1/3 of the price of store-held cleaning products. Listed below are a few of SoapX’s products:

Multi-Purpose Cleaner
Description: Mild, water-based citrus degreaser
Use: Spray directly on floors, walls and counters. Safe for use on fabrics and car interiors.

Foaming Hand Soap
Description: Natural, dye-free and unscented
Use: Refill in foaming hand soap dispensers only

Washroom Cleaner
Description: Removes soap scum, mineral deposits and rust
Use: Use on chrome taps, sinks and toilets

Water and vinegar is a cheap multi-purpose cleaner. Due to the high pH, white vinegar is highly effective in killing molds and bacteria. A spray bottle with 1:4 Vinegar to Water acts as a great surface sanitizer or window cleaner. See Vinegar for natural cleaning recipe

Takeout Containers

As the owner of a restaurant, bistro, or café you are serving up delicious goodies to-go. The Styrofoam takeout containers and non-recyclable coffee cups have to go. Recycling companies all over Greater Victoria have made one unanimous call out for paper cups: "Nobody wants them. They are difficult to recycle and don not make good compost." While the best solution to takeout is reusable containers, there are some fantastic single use products that have a lower environmental impact than traditional takeout containers.

Clear plastic cups are available that are made out of corn. Rather than using a petroleum-based cup that has a one-time use, how about providing your beverages in a container that's as biodegradable as the drink itself? A case of 1000 12oz. cups is typically about $125.

Since 2004, the Noodle Box has made a big effort to reduce the waste they send to landfills by purchasing paper and consumer products that are either biodegradable or recyclable. Because of this, their front end service has become 100% biodegradable! The Noodle Boxes, chopsticks and napkins can be broken down and turned into compost enriched soil mixes. They also made the switch to sustainable paper products, such as paper towels and napkins, choosing 100% post-consumer, unbleached products.

Instead of stacking your customers’ to-go containers with serviettes and plastic cutlery, try asking if customers need them as part of the receipt process.

Office Furniture and Equipment

Some innovative eco-products are coming to market as businesses are responding to consumer demand.

  • Pilot’s B2P Pen: refillable pens made from 89% post-consumer waste from plastic bottles.
  • Metal-free staplers: Instead of adding a wasteful piece of scrap metal to your documents, a staple free stapler cuts a small strip of paper and threads the strip through the other documents. They can be found at Monk Office for $9.99. Great at the till for receipts!
  • Stainless Steel Compost Holders: A great office, lunchroom or coffee stand option. You can purchase these at The Good Planet Company.
  • Affordable compost pick up is available through the DVBA's reCYCLISTS program.

Buying Used: Furniture and Equipment

Purchasing second-hand goods extends the life of product, deferring the use of resources for new products. What is more, the cost savings are astronomical. A used office desk typically runs at 40%-80% less than a new desk. In downtown Victoria, there are many places to buy used.

General Packaging

Unfortunately, excessive packaging is still prevalent, particularly on items such as electronics, furniture, and foods. Packaging is a waste of carbon every step of the way, from manufacture, through distribution, to collection and disposal as part of the waste stream.

Preferred Packaging

When choosing packaging types, the below spectrum gives a general idea of where to shift your packaging choices. The spectrum below is based on the processing required to make the product, its recyclability and end-of-life environmental impact. It does not take into account origin of the product.


Reduce Packaging

If you are packaging items internally, here are 5 ways of making your packaging greener:

  1. Reduce packaging! Reduced packaging translates to cost savings in material, transportation, and disposal.
  2. Look for 'Recycled material' , not to be confused with 'Recyclable material' A product labeled 'recyclable' may still end up in a landfill. Try to use as much recycled material as possible in packaging.
  3. Use biodegradable materials. Biodegradable plastics and polyesters are available and so are paper containers, paper cups, etc. Ask your local provider for these options and have them source for you.
  4. Do not mix products that are incompatible for recycling. If two or more materials constitute a package, it may not be possible to recycle the package. If you must use plastics, try to stick to one type so that it is easily recyclable.
  5. Steer away from Styrofoam, soft plastics, and foil lined items. When you receive such products in materials which you have ordered, please call the reCYCLISTS for removal of any such materials at a reasonable cost.

Call your suppliers and request that packaging be reduced and/or more sustainable options be utilized. Styrofoam is now considered the main component of marine debris. It is especially a concern for coastal communities as it takes over 500 years to break down (according to a study by Washington University).

Retail Packaging

Retail packaging quickly ends up in landfills or recycling. Rarely reused, this is a wasteful process that has plenty of room for creativity.

Chose packaging that a customer will reuse. This will increase your brand awareness and customer loyalty while reducing the environmental impact of your packaging. See Ambalaj blog for inspiration.

Change communication at the till. Would you like this wrapped? Do you need a bag? Simple questions that give customers the option to have packaging, rather than default wrapping and bagging, will reduce consumption.

Pick your packaging carefully. Chose packaging that, if left in a ditch, will compost back into the earth. Eliminate bubble wrap and plastic bags from your retail packaging and chose sustainable options such as recycled newspaper, or post consumer tissue paper and compostable bags.

Ditch those fabric-handled bags. These are a giant pain to recycle. How many of your customers will rip off the fabric handles and put the rest of the bag into mixed paper recycling? Not many. The fabric handles make recycling processes difficult. Often, these bags will end up in landfills.

Cost Savings. Switching to non-default packaging will immediately save your business money, but the big savings come from design. Creatively designing your packaging for a second function can reduce your marketing and promotion budget.

Rather than being shipped with plastic bags on each individual item, Mountain Equipment Co-op has t-shirts rolled and wrapped in a piece of recyclable twine, therefore eliminating the use of thousands of plastics bags!

Monk Office encourages vendors to reduce the use of Styrofoam packaging and collects shipping trays and empty toner cartridges from customers, among other initiatives. They are ISO 14001:2004 certified, an international recognized certification for ongoing commitment to the environment.

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