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Sustainable Purchasing

There are opportunities to consider the environment in almost every purchase an office makes.  The biggest way an office can minimize its environmental impact is to reduce consumption, so only buy if necessary and reuse items whenever possible!  When an office does need to buy new products, the most important things an office can do is to think green! by considering the environmental impacts of a new product.  Here are some suggestions to make those products as environmentally-preferable as possible.

There are many more factors and tips to consider than we can print here, but this is a good start and includes most of the major considerations. The Sustainability Integration Office and Green Office Program Liaisons are always available to help you analyze options and make decisions.

Sustainable Purchasing Guide - download [pdf]

All of the information in the Guide is available below:

Paper Products

A wide variety of products are now available with lower environmental impact, such as colored paper, stationary/design paper, notebooks and writing pads, post-its, folders, index cards and more.  When purchasing paper products there are three important factors to pay attention to:

  • Post-ConsumerRecycled Content: The higher the post-consumer content, the better. "Post-consumer" is important because it was actually previously used by consumers, not just scraps from the mill.
  • FSC Certification: The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies products that were harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner.
  • Processed Chlorine Free/Totally Chlorine Free: Non-chlorine bleaches are far better for the environment.  Look for PCF (processed chlorine free) for recycled products and TCF (totally chlorine free) for virgin paper products. 

The best option is paper with 100% post-consumer recycled content, holding the FSC recycled certification and PCF.

Non-Paper Office Supplies

There are increasingly more eco-friendly office supplies available, such as binders, pens, paper clips, scissors, pencils, clipboards, report covers, staplers, desk tray sorters, business card holders, tape dispensers. Important factors to consider are:

  • Recycled Content
  • Reduced packaging
  • Disposal methods (Is it recyclable? Biodegradable? Hazardous?)
  • Durability/reusability
  • Rapidly renewable materials (including bamboo and wool)
  • Low volatile organic compound content
  • Chlorofluorocarbon-free

Whenever you getting a new item or reordering an office staple, make sure to ask your supplier what kind of green products they have.

Appliances and Electronics

Appliances and electronics are becoming increasingly more energy-efficient.  When choosing new appliances and electronics, make sure the item is:

  • Necessary: Do you really need it? Could you share with someone else?
  • The Best Option: Are there better options available? For instance, could you use a fan instead of an air conditioner?
  • Efficient: Look for Energy-Star Certification or other indicators of energy efficiency (see for more info)

The Sustainability Integration Office is always available to help with doing analysis and with making these kind of decisions.


Talk to your printer or publisher about:

  • Paper that is 100% post-consumer recycled content, FSC certified and PCF (see Paper Products section for more info)
  • Vegetable-based inks, a great alternative to petroleum-based inks (soy-based inks are a very popular and common option)
  • Fewer varnishes and coatings, which have negative environmental impacts

Also consider going paperless and instead distributing publications electronically.  Not only does this save the office money, but it's also better for the environment!

Food and Drink

The market for more environmentally-conscious food is the fastest growing sector in the food industry.  When purchasing food, consider:

  • Organic products, which are free of pesticides and use 40% less fossil fuels to produce than conventional food.
  • Fair-trade products, which indicates equity, transparency and respect in international trade, predominantly with developing nations.
  • Local products, which support local farmers and travel fewer miles.

When serving food, consider:

  • Reusable items (mugs, plates, cutlery) instead of paper products.
  • Bulk items, rather than individual-serving packets
  • Filtered or tap water, instead of bottled water


Rechargeable batteries save money and reduce the significant water and soil contamination of disposable batteries. For information on different types of rechargeable batteries and product recommendations, click here.  


Check to see if Facilities and Campus Services has any surplus items that could be used.  If a new item is needed, look into eco-friendly options.  This website has some helpful suggestions. 

Printer Cartridges

Choosing ink cartridge refills or remanufactured cartridges not only cuts greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste and toxic pollution but can also save 20-60% on replacement costs. 

Vegetable-based inks are a great alternative to petroleum-based inks.  SoyPrint has some great options and a strong guarantee (they will replace your printer if for some reason the ink causes any problems).


CFLs and LEDs are the most efficient types of lighting.  Always look for the EnergyStar logo to ensure high-quality bulbs.

To make sure you get the light quality you want, pay attention to the color temperature listed on the box: lower numbers (like 2700k) indicate warmer light, and higher numbers (like 5000k) are cooler light. If you need to dim the light, make sure to get a dimmable CFL.

Cleaning Products and Hand Soap

Look for products with:

  • Plant-based ingredients
  • Few additives
  • Little or no fragrance

To make sure a product lives up to its green claims, look for certifications such as Green Seal and EcoLogo


When planning an office event or business trip there are many ways you can green your event.  Some things to keep in mind include: