Chapter 6: Purchasing for People and the Planet

from State of the World 2004

Author: Lisa Mastny

Spending billions of dollars annually on goods and services—often more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of entire countries—corporations, international organizations, universities, and other large institutions are key in fostering the shift toward an environmentally sustainable world. Through their daily purchases, these mega-consumers hold considerable sway over the health and stability of many of the world’s most fragile ecological systems.

In some industrial countries, government purchasing accounts for as much as 25 percent of GDP. Government procurement in the European Union alone totaled more than $1 trillion in 2001, or 14 percent of GDP. In North America, it reached $2 trillion, or about 18 percent of GDP. Universities, too, spend billions of dollars each year on everything from campus buildings to cafeteria food. In the United States, colleges bought some $250 billion in goods and services in 1999—equivalent to nearly 3 percent of U.S. GDP. And the United Nations spent nearly $14 billion on goods and services in 2000.

Because of the large-scale, systematic approach that most institutions apply to their purchasing decisions, a single purchase made by one professional buyer or department can have a tremendous ripple effect, influencing the products used by hundreds or even thousands of individuals. Green purchasing—buying products that are better for the environment and for human health—can save institutions money as well. Recycled toner cartridges, low-flush toilets, and compact fluorescent lamps are just a few of the items that bring considerable cost savings, whether upfront or over their lifetimes. Moreover, for many corporations, green purchasing can be a way to win recognition—as well as “PR” points—from both supporters and critics.


  • Greening Institutional Procurement
  • Pioneers in Green Purchasing
  • Pressures and Drivers
  • Overcoming Obstacles
  • Identifying Green Products
  • Spreading the Movement