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Making the most of public purchasing power


Public authorities should define their purchasing goals at a much earlier stage, if they want to use green public procurement (GPP) to boost eco-innovation, according to a European Union funded project.

Instead of waiting until the start of technical procurement processes before they set out eco-innovation criteria, public purchasers should follow the example of initiatives such as Vienna's WienWin programme, according to ECOPOL, a project to analyse and test promising eco-innovation policies and tools. WienWin systematically develops a dialogue with innovative companies on the new ideas that could underpin future products and public services.

Tomi Tura, the coordinator of ECOPOL, says that current approaches to innovation-boosting GPP are handicapped by a lack of an effective focus on the earlier phase of procurement. This would be more “efficient from the point of view of innovation policy”.

“The biggest opportunities for ambitious innovation-boosting GPP lie in the phase where we define what we are really aiming to purchase, how we communicate to the market our needs and activate it to react, and how we change our attitudes to accept – and to manage – the higher risks that purchasing innovations often includes,” Tura says.

Shining examples

There are examples of public authorities working with innovative companies at earlier stages to boost GPP, but these are in the minority, according to Tura. Alongside WienWin, he cites technology procurement by the Swedish Energy Agency, and Finland's RAKLI Procurement Clinic. RAKLI, the Finnish Association of Building Owners and Construction Clients, runs workshops with companies so that potential vendors can understand the challenges RAKLI is trying to tackle.

Tura says that ECOPOL has “developed a framework for understanding and identifying the innovation effect of green public procurement: where, when and by whom the market uptake of eco-innovation can be supported via public procurement,” and is preparing pilot projects to test the framework. GPP is considered vital for supporting eco-innovation. The annual purchasing power of public authorities is equivalent to 20% of EU GDP – a potential major incentive for eco-innovative products and services.

The findings on GPP are an early result of the ECOPOL project, which is designed to contribute to the Eco-innovation Action Plan's objectives, and involves partners from Austria, Finland, Germany, Greece, Portugal and Sweden. Tura coordinates the project on behalf of Finnish partner the Lahti Science and Business Park.

The project is also working on eco-innovation policies and good practices for waste and recycling, and the internationalisation of eco-innovative products and services. Further findings and pilot projects are promised.

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