Where Greenhouse Gas Emissions Happen in Professional Services

Leading-edge institutional purchasers are beginning to address the GHG emissions sources in their supply chain. In order to do so, they must first understand where these emissions come from. Many organizations are using Carnegie Mellon University's free, publicly-available EIOLCA.net model, which provides insight into where the largest sources of emissions occur within the supply chain of any given professional service type.

The most common sources of supply chain emissions for professional services can be grouped into four major categories of emissions. The four major categories include emissions from: vendor business operations (e.g. facility and fleet operations), vendor business travel, service deliverables, and the provision of food. Figures 3, 4 and 5 identifies these emissions sources for three common professional service types for public agencies. Details on how to conduct this type of analysis for specific product or services can be found in the Forum’s Climate Friendly Purchasing Toolkit Trends Analysis Report (pages 12-15).

1. Emissions from business operations (e.g. facility and fleet operations)


Electricity consumption by the professional service vendor is the largest source of GHG emissions across all professional service types. Direct emissions primarily from fuel combustion in the vendor’s fleet and natural gas in its buildings also contribute a substantial portion of total supply chain emissions.

Facility and fleet operational emissions sources are directly related to how the vendor conducts its business. These operational decisions are typically outside of the scope of the contract an institutional purchaser has with its professional services vendor. Nonetheless, because they represent the largest source of emissions in your professional services supply chain, they represent the largest opportunity for reducing your GHG emissions footprint in the professional services sector.


Organizations can use contracting strategies to encourage more sustainable facility and fleet operations by their vendors. Some examples include:

  • Require or encourage vendors to use certifications that verify sustainable business operations.
  • Require vendors to disclose actions taken to reduce energy and fuel consumption and conserve water and other resources.

These and other opportunities are explored in more detail in the strategies section of this toolkit.


2. Emissions from business travel


If your organization contracts with professional service vendors who are located outside of the local area, there may be substantial GHG emission related to transportation, food and lodging associated with business travel. Air transportation, in particular, can be a large contributor to overall emissions. Of course, this will vary from contract to contract based on the distance that is travel and the emission intensity of the type of transportation used by the vendor (airplane, public transit or car).


Institutional purchasers can reduce demand for business travel by their vendors in the following ways:

  • Investing in technology and training to enable video and teleconference.
  • Ensuring their contracts do not require unnecessary travel by vendors.
  • When travel is required, purchasers can use contracting strategies to encourage vendors to adopt corporate policies to minimize travel related emissions, and to reduce their business travel-related impacts by choosing hotels committed to operating sustainably, and making low-carbon food and restaurant choices.

These and other opportunities are explored in more detail in the strategies section of this toolkit.

3. Emissions from use of paper, packaging and shipping of service deliverables


For many knowledge-based professional services, the only tangible deliverable is the physical report, project plan, audit, or other document-based outcome of the contract. The paper used in the course of developing the final contract deliverable, as well as any packaging and air or ground transportation used to ship that deliverable to you, make up this third category of emissions.  This category can be a significant source of supply chain emissions for certain types of professional services.

Some service providers may include goods within their service delivery, such as an office supply delivery service vendor or janitorial services vendor. For these service types, organizations should include environmental specifications for those goods, such as specifying recycled content (e.g. recycled content papers) or specific eco-labels (e.g. Green Seal, UL-Environment, etc.).


Institutional purchasers can take actions within their own organization to reduce the need for paper deliverables and shipping in the following ways:

  • Using electronic signature software in place of requiring wet signatures.
  • Using cloud-based file sharing software in place of shipping documents.
  • If paper deliverables are required, use contracting strategies that require vendors to minimize paper use, and require that any paper used contain recycled content.
  • Including specifications for low-carbon and environmentally preferable goods where the service provided includes the provision of goods (e.g., office supplies or janitorial services).

We explore these and other solutions in the strategies section of the toolkit.

4. Emissions from the provision of food


Certain types of professional service contracts will include the provision of food as part of their services. Examples where this might be relevant include a community service program providing food relief to the neediest members of your community, or for marketing firms that serve food during focus groups they host as part of their contracted research. As discussed in the food module of the Climate Friendly Purchasing Toolkit, attention to details such as ordering proper amounts of food and low-waste food service, as well as a focus on low-carbon foods can impact to total GHG emissions generated as part of your organizations supply chain.


Government agencies can use contracting strategies to encourage vendors to reduce the carbon intensity of food served in the following ways:

  • Purchasing lower carbon foods.
  • Considering opportunities to prevent the generation of food waste through thoughtful purchasing, preparation and food service models.
  • Asking/requiring vendors to minimize packaging waste (while also considering where packaging may keep food edible longer).
  • Composting the food waste that is produced. 

We explore these and other solutions in the strategies section of the toolkit.

Consider lifecycle climate impacts of service deliverables

Many professional service vendors provide service deliverables that will inform the long-term GHG emissions of the organization. It is important for purchasers to include specifications to minimize these lifecycle emissions in the contract with the professional service vendor.

For instance, the building design provided by an architectural and engineering firm will determine the energy efficiency of a new building over its lifetime and thus should be designed to minimize those emissions. Other types of projects that may influence lifecycle emissions include construction management services, IT infrastructure and design, real estate services, among others. See Appendix B for a list of services types with potentially significant lifecycle climate. Contracting Strategies to Address the Climate Impacts of Professional Services Purchasing

Professional and community services contribute significantly to the climate impact of government agency and higher education institutions’ supply chain. Despite this large climate impact, there is a dearth of proven tools and resources for reducing these emissions. And there are few examples to-date of government organizations taking actions to address these impacts through their procurements.

Despite these challenges, there are signs that change is on the horizon:

  • Awareness of the impacts of professional services is growing. The Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council includes professional services within their Guidance for Leadership in Sustainable Purchasing.
  • Standards are being developed. Stakeholders are coming together in various settings to develop national environmental standards to help inform and engage professional service providers in reducing impacts of their business operations and service deliverables.
  • Actions are being taken. Leading edge government agencies and higher education institutions are implementing a range of strategies to influence the marketplace.

Purchasers have an important role to play in driving change in this marketplace by taking actions to encourage professional service vendors to reduce their climate impacts. Purchasers can implement a variety of contracting strategies to reduce the sources of greenhouse gas emissions that are generated as a result of doing business with their vendors.