Impact via insight in sustainable office supplies

Project Title
Impact via insight in sustainable office supplies
Priority 2 Eco-innovation: Stimulating the green economy
Lead Beneficiary
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Schumanplein 6
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Central Aim

The central aim of this project is to test and implement the SOFEA Assessment Scheme (SAS), a transparent, efficient, and all-encompassing rating scheme for the environmental friendliness of office supply products in terms of (raw) material use, production, packaging, usage and end-of-life. It aims to demonstrate that applying the SAS reduces the environmental impact of office supplies by influencing the purchase behaviour of government institutions and companies.

Project Description

Did you ever notice the many different eco-labels on an office supply product like the packaging of post-its? Does it tell you that it is truly environmentally friendly in terms of (raw) material use, production, packaging, usage and end-of-life?

The “Sustainable Office European Association” (SOFEA) created a transparent, efficient and overarching rating system called SOFEA Assessment Scheme (SAS). This includes all relevant internationally-recognised eco-labels and the needs of the industry. It provides the necessary sustainable product data to facilitate a significant change with regard to both market demand and supply. It will provide complementary methods (hotspot analysis from the LCA) for the EU PEF (Product Environmental Footprint), a pilot project from the European Commission.

As the office supplies sector tends to become more digital (with regard to the use of paper), the SAS aims to be an evolving and flexible system, extendable beyond the traditional office supplies market and adaptable to progressing standards. It aims to be a transparent tool that is open to the participating organisations and other stakeholders.

In this project, SOFEA will demonstrate the SAS that will assess the sustainability / eco-efficiency of three different product category groups: filing (binders), writing instruments and notebooks. Taking into account the legal framework and EU-guidelines on public procurement, a public procurement process will be started in which the SAS/rating system is included. By informing the market about the (minimum) standard of the product(s) they want to procure, public authorities – as “launching users of the SAS/rating system” – will create an impact on the eco-efficiency of the products they need. Public authorities are selected as first users as they procure office supplies from the market in substantial volumes.

First a baseline will be determined to learn what the environmental impact of the current office supplies of the different governments is. After determining that, the office supplies used, will be scored with the programme developed by SOFEA. This insight will be used to adopt procurement policy. After the adoption of the procurement policy the environmental impact will be measured again and compared with the impact without using SAS.

Envisaged Output

The three most important outputs of the project in which SOFEA will implement SAS for three product groups are:

1) A tested and validated SAS for the three product groups with as a result other product groups will be integrated more easily and with more certainty.

2) A standard plan of action for procurement parties like governmental institutions and private parties. This plan of action enables them to aim easier and more effectively for a lower environmental impact when tendering office supplies. This because the environmental demands of the procurement parties can be better targeted thanks to the SAS.

3) Enlarging the network of parties that use the SAS on both the procurement and selling side of the office supply market.

What is the need for this project?

Public authorities and companies strive to operate more environmentally friendly. Unfortunately, the products or services they procure from the market are not transparent with regards to environmental impact. There are many internationally-recognised eco-labels within the different industries (e.g. paper, plastic or technology), but these are not comprehensive enough. Manufacturers in the office supply industry still have to answer separate questionnaires about product information, sustainability or health & safety for every retailer or distributer. This leads to fragmented and non-comparable messaging about the standards of eco-friendliness and an unnecessary administrative overload for manufacturers. Manufacturers and resellers in the office supply industry thus joined forces in the European industry association SOFEA to change these inefficient and ineffective practices.

Of course efforts are taking place to reduce the environmental footprint of office supplies. Many organisations throughout Europe have developed all kinds of eco-labels that inform the end user with information on the eco-efficiency of the product. Unfortunately, none of the labels actually informs us on the level of eco-efficiency in a comparable way.

On top of that, resellers of office supplies request non-standardised (sets of) information from the product manufactures. This leads to:

  • Less insights in the eco-efficiency of the products concerned.

  • Disability to compare products on eco-efficiency.

  • Uncertainty for the manufacturer what information to provide and a relatively low incentive to produce eco-efficient.

Furthermore, an analysis was made on websites that provide overviews of tenders. A query was made by using the Common Procurement Vocabulary (CPV) code for office supplies. From the analysis it was concluded that many public authorities tender for office supplies, but hardly describe the wishes / demands with regards to environmental issues. They mostly ask for a qualitative description from suppliers why they are environmental friendly. Public authorities are not allowed to require too specific demands or wishes in a tender as it could be too selective. This withholds the sector in becoming more sustainable.

Thematic Keywords
Awareness raising
Promoting green economic activity
Sustainable resource use
Other Keywords
Sustainable office supplies
Partners Found Already
Partners Searched
  • Private enterprises / multinationals and public authorities in the NSR aiming to increase environmental impact with their procurement policies specifically for office supplies (FNR, online actors for office supplies e.g. Amazon)

  • PIANOo (Dutch Public Procurement Expertise Centre) + similar organisations in other NSR countries

  • MVO Nederland in its role to inform and attract additional businesses from office supply and in future also for other markets to broaden the scope of the SAS

  • University with regard to baseline and impact study

  • Office supplies manufacturers and resellers in the NSR (manufacturers: e.g. Acco, Group Hamelin, resellers: e.g. Office Depot, Staples)

  • NGO’s: e.g Responsible OffIce in Belgium

Estimated Budget

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