Information sheet: Sustainable procurement

last updated : 2021/01/13

General information

“Achieving a balance between the environment, society and the economy is considered essential to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable development as a goal is achieved by balancing the three pillars of sustainability” (Haider, 2011). The RCRC Movement, by its very nature as a humanitarian organization, has a moral duty to consider future generations when designing and implementing relief operations.

Sustainable procurement (SP) is about taking social and environmental factors into consideration alongside quality and financial factors in making procurement decisions. It involves looking beyond the traditional economic parameters and making decisions based on the whole life cost, the associated risks, measures of success and implications for society and the environment. Making decisions in this way requires setting procurement into the broader strategic context including value for money, performance management, corporate and community priorities (2004, January, UN procurement handbook,

Sustainable procurement is the process by which organizations buy assets, supplies or services by taking into account a number of factors including:

  • Value for money considerations such as, price, quality, availability, durability, functionality, etc.
  • Optimisation of the logistics chain to reduce the supply footprint as well as reduction of waste at the end of life.
  • Environmental aspects; the effects on the environment that the assets, supplies and/or services have over the whole lifecycle ("green procurement").
  • Social aspects: effects on issues such as poverty eradication, inequality in the distribution of resources, labour conditions, human rights, Fair-trade.
  • End of life aspects: considering the possibilities of the product to be reused, recycled or otherwise managed at the end of its first useful life, in a sustainable manner (economically viable, socially acceptable, environmentally protective).


Quality, Social and Environmental (QSE) approach

QSE approach aims to ensure that Sustainable development as a goal is achieved by balancing the three pillars of sustainability (Quality, Society and Environment) for externally provided processes, products and services.

For the humanitarian interventions to be effective, suppliers must commit to deliver the right product, of the right quality, in the right quantity, in the right place and at the right time. The ICRC has added a further condition for companies; to conform to quality management, social and environmental criteria.

In that aim, the appropriate communication is done to external providers of the processes, products and services: AQL (Acceptance Quality Limit of items specification including Environmental aspects) and Reference of manufacturing standards for relief items production (minimum QSE requirements for factories and especially on production lines).

The verification of the manufacturing standards is performed at the external providers’ premises. To that end, the ICRC’s assessors and purchasers perform on-site companies’ audits and assessments to ensure that the minimum standards of product quality, social responsibility and environmental protection are being applied.

The audit criteria include among other Quality Management System efficiency, working conditions, machine security & maintenance, health and safety, child labour and environmental protection.

Once the production is made, shipments inspection is done using Sampling Procedures indexed by AQL. Standardized control processes ensure that acceptance criteria are met, and that controls are repeatable equitably.

Supplier Relationship Management is performed through performance evaluation, Corrective Action Plans, coaching and improvements (e.g., remove unnecessary plastic packaging). The control and the monitoring of the external providers’ performance is recorded, and continuous improvements plans are applied.



To achieve sustainable procurement the selected products should meet the relevant criteria from the following criteria list; or at least be in a corrective action process toward the achievement of this. The selected products are showing the “Green Tree” tag in this Catalogue.


Environmental aspects:

  • When considering the environmental impact, we intend to minimize any potential negative effects on water, air, soil, life, noise, nature, biodiversity and space.
  • Use long lasting products and materials, to minimize the replacement and allow the second life
  • Reduced weight and volume compared to equivalent preceding products
  • Seek equipment that is energy efficient
  • Use materials with reduced effect on environment due to their intrinsic nature

- No (or reduced) polluting with minimum use of toxic chemicals, CFCs ozone and other pollutants

- 100% biodegradable material when biodegradability in the environment is foreseen

  • Whenever possible, the use of recycled or re-used materials should be encouraged while this will not reduce the quality of the item.
  • Use of materials and products that can have a second life in a different usage
  • Use equipment that have a high rate of reparability when applicable
  • When products are made up of several types of material, particularly plastics and metals, the ease of disassembly is taken into consideration. Particularly relevant for electronic and electrical products.
  • Use of materials that can be collected and recycled, particularly in low technology environment.
  • Minimum packaging

- Reducing the packaging to the minimum although enabling the product to survive poor handling (primary and secondary packaging).

- Optimising palletisation plan and loading plan for TC (ISO Transport Container).

  • Favour manufacturing processes that facilitate pollution control. Proper waste management in the production site.
  • Manage sourcing in a way that reduces the environmental impact and facilitates the application of social standards.


Social aspects

  • Ethical standards:

- The ICRC/IFRC code of conduct for purchasing strives to ensure the ICRC highest ethical standards and ethical standards from our suppliers too. Each person undertaking any purchasing activity in the ICRC signs this document.

- The ICRC/IFRC Ethical Purchasing policy is being implemented. Criteria on working conditions, hygiene and security, safety, child labour, and environmental concerns are assessed in the manufacturing units. Position on Ethical Policy for Purchasing (

- Social impact: labour and deontological practices, Health and safety, hardship working conditions, etc.


Economic impact, value for money:

  •  Maximum durability, minimum quality, reparability, reusability, recyclability and upgradeability:

- Use long lasting products and materials, to minimize the replacement and allow the second life.

- Reparability is also considered during the design of the product.

- Seek products that enable updated and improve performance.

  • Anti-fraud policy

- ICRC/IFRC policy to prevent fraud and corruption for all staff members and external partners


ICRC/IFRC Standard Product Catalogue – last updated 2021-11-05