Worldwatch Paper #166: Purchasing Power: Harnessing Institutional Procurement for People and the Planet

Author: Lisa Mastny

ISBN: 1-878071-70-X
Publication Date: July 2003
72 pages

Through the things that they buy, large institutions wield great influence over the future of our planet. Nearly every institutional purchase, from office paper to buildings, entails hidden costs for the natural environment and the world's people. Shifting just a portion of that spending away from harmful goods and services to more environmentally friendly alternatives can benefit ecosystems and communities, save money, and send a powerful message to markets on behalf of more sustainable options.

Around the world, forward-thinking institutions are changing their purchasing habits to incorporate environmental concerns into all stages of their procurements. But current activity is largely restricted to industrial countries. Even there, few organizations realize the tremendous potential of their purchasing to effect positive environmental change. They also face political, legal, institutional and other obstacles to effectively using this potential.

Although not a panacea, harnessing institutional purchasing may be one of the most powerful tools available for shifting patterns of production and consumption toward sustainability. A number of organizations are working hard to push institutional purchasers to respond to rising demands for a more sustainable world.