Setting sustainability requirements for suppliers

Our power to have a positive influence on the environment and protect our planet comes not just through our own actions, but through the purchase decisions we make.

Schools, as businesses, can decide to buy only from suppliers with high environmental standards. Or, if those suppliers don’t yet exist, can lobby them to improve their environmental policies.

Do your suppliers have an environmental policy?

Underlying any action you can take with individual suppliers is the general principle that you should choose to buy primarily from companies which have a clearly stated environmental policy. This may be available on their website or on printed communications, or, for smaller companies, implicit in their operations.

Large companies may have signed up to be a B Corporation (see, or have other environmental accreditation by external or sector specific bodies.

Even if the company you want to buy from isn’t there yet, the fact that you have asked them about their environmental policy keeps this issue high up the agenda. If every school or customer asked before signing a new contract, then in a few years all companies would respond to that need by changing their operations. If you go one step further and sometimes drop suppliers because their environmental credentials are not good enough, that is an even greater incentive for them to change.


Books are important in schools, and it’s fantastic to have colour editions printed on high quality glossy paper.

We don’t want to sacrifice a high-quality product which contributes to good learning, so this is a prime example of going back to the publisher and asking how they compensate for the environmental impact that manufacture of their books is having. Publishers have been aware of this for a number of years, conscious of the millions of trees felled every year and the millions of tonnes of unsold book pulp returned to landfill. So this won’t come as a surprise to them.

The more that schools, as large consumers, ask about this and lobby, the more that environmentalism will remain high on the agenda of publishers. This in turn drives innovations in sourcing policy, manufacturing systems, use of vegetable inks which are less environmentally damaging, and even carbon offsets to compensate for transport and distribution.

Taxis and Tour Operators

If you are a school which organises transport for students, for example collections at airports or trips and excursions, consider asking your taxi or tour companies about their environmental credentials. You may find one which uses only electric or hybrid vehicles, for example.

School consumables

If you use a lot of paper in your school, ask the company you buy from about their sustainability policy regarding sourcing, manufacture and delivery. This includes paper in offices and classrooms, and in washrooms.

If you are buying a new printer or photocopier, consider how effective the recycling of the toner cartridges is. Ask the supplier for some data about this – everybody will say that their toner is recyclable, but after postage, collection and upcycling, what is the net environmental impact?
If you are buying other merchandise, for students or for marketing, think about how sustainable it is. Look not just at the product, but at the environmental credentials of the manufacturer and supplier.


You may choose an electricity provider based on their commitment to sourcing a certain percentage from renewables, or of their commitment to funding future research.

Your Green Pound, Euro, Dollar, Rouble, Florin, Bhat or Dong…

All in all, if you consider that every Pound, Euro, Dollar, Rouble, Florin, Bhat or Dong you spend is a green power pack, and you prioritise suppliers who are doing the right things, then you will be helping everybody move in the right direction to save our planet.

Read more about the IH Environmental Sustainability Scheme >>