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Catering project seeks eco-innovative suppliers


A pan-European project involving partners from Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom is testing how the power of procurement can be used as a lever to create greater sustainability in the catering trade.

The activities of the INNOCAT (Procurement of Eco-Innovative Catering) project cover procurement by both the public and private sectors. As part of the project, four buyers - two public and two private - have committed to test the procurement of more sustainable catering services. The project is looking for suppliers that might meet the sustainability criteria being developed by the buyers.

There are potentially high rewards at stake for the right suppliers. One of the public procurers, the city of Turin, is as part of the project looking to renew a school catering contract covering 350 educational institutions. The current contract is worth €80 million. Overall, public procurement in the European Union is worth about 19% of gross domestic product, making it a powerful tool for creating demand that can help new products and services reach the market.

The other INNOCAT buyers are a purchasing organisation for a group of hospitals in the Paris area, a privately managed technology park in Turin, and international company Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells.

The buyers are presently working on what exactly their procurements will specify in terms of environmentally-friendly products and services. Johnson Matthey, for example, is considering a purchase of low-carbon vending machines for its sites. Issues that will be taken into account in the procurement specifications will include reduced transport emissions, waste reuse and recycling, the provision of bio-based products (which could include, for example, organic food) and energy-efficient equipment - such as the vending machines.

The procurement exercise, according to Amalia Ochoa of the project's coordinators, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, can potentially drive eco-innovation in the catering industry marketplace. One possible approach could be to avoid over-specification of criteria for the products or services being procured to meet. Instead, says Ochoa, procurers might set out the environmental results that they want - such as a specified emissions reduction - and “allow the market to respond in a creative way.”

The project started in March 2013 and is at an early stage. It will likely involve collaboration between buyers and suppliers to achieve more environmentally-friendly results compared to traditional procurement. The project partners hope that the four buyers will achieve concrete results, and that the project will also raise awareness generally in the catering industry about more eco-innovative procurement options. The project is also looking to expand its buyers' group. Interested parties can find further information at http://www.sustainable-catering.eu