By: Annika Wikstahl, Purchasing Officer, City of Vetlanda, Sweden.
At the City of Vetlanda, Sweden, environmental, social and ethical criteria are an important part of our purchasing program. These priorities are reflected in our current purchasing policies. In our latest Chromebook tender, we decided to use TCO Certified to bridge the gap between our limited resources as a public entity and the expertise required to set relevant criteria and verify IT product compliance.
Setting criteria – a resource- and knowledge-intensive task
For a purchaser to formulate relevant social and environmental criteria by themselves is a difficult task that calls for dedicated resources and specialized expertise. We value the breadth of criteria covered in TCO Certified and that they actually make a difference for people involved in manufacturing IT products throughout the world. Equally important is the the built-in independent verification in TCO Certified.
Beyond the criteria – Verifying product compliance
In earlier IT tenders, we had chosen to rely on vendor and supplier declarations that the products we purchased met our sustainability criteria. But by using TCO Certified, we know that products we buy are verified by independent, accredited experts to meet the criteria.
Our first experience using TCO Certified was in our recent Chromebooks purchase for our school district, as part of a framework agreement. By doing so, we gained a better understanding of the social responsibility, environmental and even usability aspects connected to our use of IT products.
Proving “Or Equivalent” can be difficult
As a public entity we have an obligation to accept alternative proof of equivalence to the certification(s) we specify. When we first used TCO Certified, we received a bid that offered proof of equivalence with the criteria≥, but the challenge for us was how to know whether these products actually met the criteria. We don’t have the resources to do this kind of cross-checking analysis of complex criteria. We knew that TCO Development, the organization behind TCO Certified, offered a checklist outlining what alternative proof we would need our vendors to provide in order to prove equivalence. This includes documentation to prove independent compliance verification for the product, factory and IT brand company, both pre and post certification.
The checklist of required documentation was long and detailed. At that point we understood the expertise and complexity involved in these criteria and verifying compliance. It was a much more straightforward and efficient process for us to specify that products must be TCO Certified.
For us, IT products are a risk and a priority category for sustainable purchasing
In Vetlanda, our purchasing policy calls for a high level of environmental awareness -a priority that is now expanding to also include ethical and social responsibility. With its well documented environmental and social risks, IT hardware is earmarked as a priority category for a more sustainable approach to purchasing, and TCO Certified helps us do that.
Our advice to other IT purchasers:
- Learn about the issues: – educate yourself about the social and environmental risks behind the products that you buy. For us it’s reassuring to use TCO Certified as we know it’s having a positive effect and driving a more sustainable development in the technology industry.
- Get management buy-in: Educate your municipal leadership on the sustainability risks and solutions available. Their support makes it easier for you to make sustainable product criteria a driver in your purchases
- Develop a sustainable purchasing policy: make sure it outlines the importance of product sustainability criteria and identifies priority product categories.
- Check product availability: find out if the IT brands and products you’re looking for are certified. You can search at the TCO Certified Product Finder.
- Talk to your suppliers – be clear about your goals: Make sure your vendors know about your sustainability goals connected to the products you buy. Tell them you plan on specifying TCO Certified in the tender. If your policy doesn’t yet specify social and environmental criteria, talking to your suppliers about TCO Certified in advance is a good way to prepare them for future tenders.
Sustainable IT purchasing is a fairly new initiative for our city, and we quickly realized that setting criteria ourselves and requiring proof of compliance with those criteria would be a complex task, considering our limited resources. Non-disclosure agreements and lack of industry transparency can make it difficult for vendors to deliver the proof of compliance that we demand, particularly when it comes to verifying the fair treatment of factory workers making these products. So we weren’t able to verify compliance with the criteria we set. As an independent solution, TCO Certified made this process easier for us, as it includes the verification and expertise necessary to prove product and factory compliance. This gives us the confidence that we are in fact making a more sustainable choice.