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Responsible Purchasing Guidelines

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Stanford Procurement Services is committed to the university’s value of sustaining life on earth, including specific commitments to achieve net zero carbon emissions in university operations by 2050 and zero waste by 2030, among others. Responsible purchasing is a key component to achieving these goals, and these guidelines are meant to advise, guide and encourage university purchasers and suppliers alike to act responsibly when involved in purchasing activities at Stanford.

General Guidelines

Responsible Purchasing is the acquisition of goods and services that meet the business and research needs of the consumer while also being environmentally-friendly, socially responsible, and ethically-sourced. The purpose of these guidelines is to support and facilitate the purchase of products and materials that minimize the harmful effects from their production, transportation, use, and disposition. It is Stanford's preference to purchase and use environmentally preferable products whenever they perform satisfactorily and can be acquired at similar total value. The policy applies to all Stanford University purchasers and suppliers. 

Roles and Responsibilities

Procurement Services

Stanford Procurement Services promotes the use of environmentally preferable products, practices, and suppliers. Stanford Procurement Services recognizes the university community's responsibility to minimize any negative impacts on society, human health, and the environment, while also meeting various business requirements.

Specifically, Stanford Procurement Services supports responsible purchasing through:

  • Partnerships with the Office of Sustainability, the Scope 3 Emissions Program, and schools and units to develop and implement responsible purchasing solutions that fit the needs of the university
  • Programs such as Cardinal Print that focus on high-volume, high-impact solutions to purchasing needs
  • Processes that incorporate sustainable purchasing practices into how the university does business (i.e., through contracts and vendor management)
  • Data Analysis across spend categories that informs buying decisions and measures efforts toward the university's goals


Each member of the Stanford community has choices when it comes to purchasing that can have a meaningful impact on the world. It is the entire university community's responsibility to minimize any negative impacts on society, human health and the environment, while also meeting various business requirements. In keeping with Stanford's commitment to the environment, departments should adhere to the responsible purchasing guidance whenever possible. Consideration should be taken for the purchases’ environmental impact, including but not limited, to the financial and environmental cost of manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of the product. 


Stanford encourages partnerships with suppliers who adhere to the responsible purchasing guidance at a competitive price.

General Purchasing Considerations

In keeping with Stanford's commitment to the environment, departments should adhere to green purchasing practices whenever possible, taking into account the environmental impact, including but not limited to, the financial and environmental cost of manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of the product. 

Purchasing Considerations
Stanford purchasers should consider these questions when making a purchase:

  • Is the product or service really necessary?
  • Must it be new, or can an existing product be reused/repurposed to fulfill the need?
  • How will it be disposed of? Is it recyclable, reusable, compostable, or biodegradable?
  • Is the product energy efficient compared to competitive products?
  • Are the packaging components recyclable? (At Stanford, cardboard and thin film plastic are recyclable; Styrofoam is not).
  • Does the product’s supplier have its own sustainability and/or greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals?

And, at a deeper level:

  • What material is the product made of?
  • What negative upstream or downstream effects might this product have?
  • Under what conditions was the product manufactured? For instance, were fair and ethical labor practices used in the manufacturing process or supply chain?
  • How was the product transported and delivered? How far has it traveled?

Guidance by Category

To support responsible purchasing at the university, Stanford Procurement Services provides guidance by purchasing category. The Stanford community can learn more about common purchasing categories and sustainable purchasing methods in the Responsible Purchasing Guidelines handbook.

All purchases of paper products, including both office and janitorial, should either be made from 100 percent recycled content or be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. Products made from recycled paper not only prevent trees from being cut down, but also require up to 30 percent less energy and 50 percent less water to produce than non-recycled paper.

Office and Breakroom Supplies
Many office products (e.g., binders, pens, staplers, etc.) are disposed of before reaching the end of their useful life. Therefore, Stanford personnel should first check to see if the need can be fulfilled with reused items. Consider checking the Reuse website or posting to email lists to find the office supplies you need before buying new ones.

Because office supplies are highly consumable, the most important sustainability aspect is keeping used materials out of the landfill, through the purchase of products that are recyclable or compostable and made with recycled content.

Breakroom supplies include service ware, such as cups, plates and utensils, accounting for a high level of waste and negative impact to the environment. Reusable service ware is the most responsible purchasing option. If disposable service ware is required, BPA certified compostable items should be purchased. Compostable items turn into soil in 45 days at a commercial composting facility.

Lab Supplies
Reusable options for lab consumables, such as pipette tips and boxes, gloves, media bottles, etc. are becoming more available and are often less expensive. For example, instead of purchasing new pipette tip boxes every time, one can reuse the boxes and purchase refillable tip racks, which are up to 70 percent cheaper. The Green Labs program hosts a lab share event every fall and spring to facilitate reuse between labs. For supplies that cannot be reused, labs should purchase recyclable options where available and arrange for used items to be dropped off for recycling at key locations on campus.

Before purchasing new chemicals, purchasers should check with Stanford's Surplus Chemical Inventory. Through this program, Environmental Health and Safety (EH and S) delivers free chemicals to labs within 24 hours. Purchasers and lab managers are encouraged to use Stanford’s Chemical Inventory Management and Tracking System, ChemTracker, which ensures good inventory management practices and can lead to cost savings from avoiding duplicate purchases.

Electronic Equipment
Purchases of electronic equipment should be EPEAT certified. EPEAT is the most comprehensive sustainability certification for IT equipment (E.g. computers, monitors, TVs) evaluating a number of different attributes, including materials sourcing, environmental safety during production, energy consumption, and end of life. A laptop computer that is EPEAT certified uses 42 percent less energy, contains 25 percent more recycled content, and contains 89 percent less toxic metals than a non-EPEAT computer. In the past few years, 100 percent of Stanford’s electronics purchased through its major suppliers have been EPEAT certified. EPEAT provides model contract language that can be included in requests for proposals.

Non-IT equipment purchases should be Energy Star certified. Energy Star is the most robust and prevalent sustainability certification for non-IT equipment. The certification is given to the most energy efficient models in each equipment category. Purchasing Energy Star will ensure that the equipment’s energy consumption and carbon footprint is as low as possible during use.

As furniture is often disposed of before reaching the end of its useful life, when purchasing furniture, Stanford personnel should first check the Stanford Reuse website to see if the need can be fulfilled with reused items.

New furniture sourced for Stanford should not include toxic chemicals. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there are over 80,000 chemicals in use today, most are unregulated and only some have undergone sufficient health testing. Many of these toxic chemicals end up in furniture, specifically: Flame retardants, Polyvinyl Chloride, Volatile Organic Compounds, Fluorinated Chemicals, and Antimicrobials. Recent research clearly links these chemicals to adverse health effects including cancer, interference with the hormone system, impairments to neurological development, and reproductive harm. The Consumer Product Safety Commission claims that removing flame retardants and other chemicals does not compromise fire safety.


Stanford Procurement Services has partnered with Sustainable Stanford to pilot two search tools to ease finding and purchasing of sustainable products.

  • When using Amazon Business: 
    • Look for items with the Climate Pledge Friendly label. This label denotes items that are certified through one or more reputable, transparent, external sustainability certification programs. Examples include the Forest Stewardship Council and EPEAT. Search results can be filtered to show only products with this label.
    • Select the Amazon Day delivery option to consolidate deliveries to one day per week and reduce the number of trips required to deliver items. 
    • Choose the Frustration-Free Packaging option whenever it’s offered to reduce the use of additional and unnecessary packaging materials. Search results can be filtered to show only products that meet this criteria.
  • Learn more about Scope 3 Emissions from Purchased Goods and Services
  • Review the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guiding principles, which include:
    • Include environmental considerations as part of the normal purchasing process
    • Emphasize pollution prevention early in the purchasing process
    • Examine multiple environmental attributes and costs throughout a product or service's life cycle
    • Compare relevant environmental impacts when selecting products and services
    • Collect accurate and meaningful information about environmental performance and use it to make purchasing decisions