Environmentally sustainable supply at UNICEF

Our impact on the environment will have consequences for the children we serve and the planet they will inherit. How is UNICEF reducing harmful waste from supplies, lowering carbon emissions and improving the efficiency of transport for global supply operations?

UNICEF procures essential commodities for children in 150 countries and areas. Working with suppliers and service providers globally is important in achieving more sustainable supply chains for products. Better reporting on CO2 emissions, company policies and certifications related to environmental and sustainability issues are some of the areas UNICEF is looking at.

Here are some recent highlights where environmental considerations and sustainability are becoming standard practice along UNICEF supply chains.

Reducing waste from safe injection equipment

UNICEF procures safe injection equipment for vaccines on behalf of 80 countries annually, amounting to approximately 30,000 cubic metres of equipment to be transported. This would fill about 12 Olympic Swimming Pools. In 2017, UNICEF awarded contracts to seven equipment suppliers based on considerations like reducing waste and transport volumes, among other criteria.

Additionally, between 2013 and 2017, the number of shipments was reduced by 11 per cent by bundling products from the same suppliers, even as the quantities ordered increased by 12 per cent. Going forward, UNICEF’s new way of procuring safe injection equipment is expected to achieve an estimated 12 per cent reduction of contaminated waste from injection devices and a 6 per cent reduction in transport volumes compared to previous years.

A graphic titled: Procurement achievements for safe injection equipment. Shown figures: 11% reduction of shipments in the 2013-2017 period; 12% projected reduction of contaminated waste; 6% projected reduction in transport volumes.
© UNICEF Supply Division/2018Procurement achievements for safe injection equipment.

Bio-compostable bags in health and education kits

As part of our ongoing efforts toward ‘green’ procurement, plastic bags in UNICEF supplies are being replaced with a bio-compostable option, thereby reducing harmful waste. These bags become part of the soil or the water when discarded, without leaving plastic microparticles. While bio-compostable bags may cost more, the overall cost to the environment led to the recent decision to use this option.

In 2017, approximately 20 million bio-compostable bags were included in health or education kits sent to Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nigeria and Sierra Leone. In DRC, patients in health clinics are carrying medicines home in bags made of corn husk that are 100 per cent bio-compostable. In Burundi, children received school materials in bio-compostable bags as part of a Back-to-School campaign.

See more stories from the latest UNICEF Supply Annual Report.


This article was written by Miho Abe, Robert Matthews and Edgard Seikaly.

Miho Abe is Sustainable Procurement Officer at UNICEF Supply Division, coordinating UNICEF’s effort to progress toward more socially responsible and eco-friendly public procurement.

Robert Matthews is a contracts manager in the Health Technology Centre at UNICEF Supply Division. He has implemented procurement strategies incorporating sustainability criteria and targets.

Edgard Seikaly is a technical specialist in the education unit at UNICEF Supply Division, specializing in the product development of education, early childhood development, adolescence and child protection-related commodities globally.


Correction: An earlier version of this story in print copies misstated the volume of injection equipment transported annually. It is 30,000 cubic metres of equipment, not 50,000.

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  1. Moving to a sustainable living is a great initiative for a healthy living. Let’s all support and make the earth a better place to live.