EU Member States are increasingly using their purchasing power through public procurement to stimulate eco-innovation and the uptake of green technologies and services across Europe.
About one in five public authorities in Europe today includes environmental requirements in over half their procurement contracts, according to a recent survey prepared for the European Commission on green public procurement (GPP). The survey results fed into a Commission review of EU public procurement legislation released in June 2011. According to the survey, most Member States have implemented national GPP plans, but there are big differences in impact.
Public authorities are some of Europe’s biggest consumers, spending about €2 trillion a year, equal to about 17% of the EU’s gross domestic product. By using this considerable purchasing power to choose products with a lower environmental impact, they can stimulate sustainable production and consumption, or in other words, resource efficiency.
In its 2008 Sustainable Consumption and Production action plan, the Commission set an indicative target that by 2010 half of all public procurement should be green, based on GPP criteria to be worked out centrally at EU level. Criteria for 18 products groups from paper to gardening services have so far been developed by the EU and many Member States use them. Some Member States have added their own categories on top, for products from postal services to medical equipment.
Most of the national GPP plans aim for less than the EU’s goal for half of all public procurement to be green, but some are more ambitious. Finland and the Netherlands aim for 100% GPP for example.
The Netherlands set its target for 2010 and in June 2011 reported having met it. The government announced that 99.8% of public procurement at national level in 2010 was green. At the same time, other Dutch public bodies hugely exceeded their targets: provinces recorded 96% GPP (target: 50%), municipalities 86 to 90% GPP (target: 75%), and water boards 85% GPP (target 50%). Tertiary educational institutions such as universities also secured GPP levels of over 75%.
Hester de Boer, from the Dutch environment ministry, identifies several factors for the Dutch success: GPP is a political priority, there are clear goals to achieve, all levels of government are involved, stakeholders take part in setting GPP criteria, there is only one set of GPP criteria, there are professional public procurers and the Netherlands has a monitoring system.
The country has developed GPP criteria for 45 different product groups, using EU criteria where available. The products and services covered range from audiovisual equipment and work clothing to catering services and company cars. For each, the government has prepared a guidance document with minimum criteria for purchase, complemented by advice on efficient use and suggested extra credit for innovative features, such as for TVs a light sensor that adapts the image to local light levels.
The Dutch government estimates its GPP policy saves 3 million tonnes of CO2, 3.6 kilo-tonnes of nitrogen oxides and 81 tonnes of particulate matter every year. It believes a quarter of the Netherlands’ goal of a 30% CO2 emissions cut by 2020 could be met through GPP.
Other Member States that have prioritised close to 50 products groups for GPP are Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and the UK. Overall, construction and transport are the most popular categories. They have also been identified in the Commission’s new energy efficiency plan 2011 as having the greatest potential for energy savings. In countries such as the Netherlands the private sector has been inspired: in February this year 17 big companies from KLM to Philips said they would apply green criteria in their procurement policies within five years.
But not all countries are equally advanced. In many Member States, less than a fifth of contracting authorities say over half their contracts include green requirements.
In Romania, the EcoEmerge project – developed jointly by Romania’s and Norway’s environment ministries – sought to build up a critical mass of GPP specialists in public authorities. Funded by a €2 million grant from Norway, it organised eight training sessions over a period of two years focused on the eight product groups for which Romania has adopted the EU GPP criteria: energy, transport, construction, cleaning products and services, food and catering, office equipment, paper and printing services.
The training sessions were directed at public procurement officials but also brought in green product suppliers. Together, they developed reference tender documents including GPP criteria that Romania’s environment ministry wants public authorities to use in future. Like other Member States, Romania has no binding GPP targets, but is seeking to encourage it in the context of resource efficiency.
Although GPP can in the long-term cut costs for public authorities, for example by cutting energy bills, it has been hindered in Romania by the economic crisis, says Iulia Degeratu from Romania’s environment ministry. For GPP to become a success in Romania requires a more thorough knowledge of the green products and services available on the local market, she says. To address this, the Romanian environment ministry has launched a website encouraging suppliers to detail their wares. It has also organised training on the EU eco-label for suppliers.
Once the government is convinced there is enough on offer, mandatory GPP targets could be a next step, Degeratu says. Such targets could be considered as part of Romania’s next GPP plan due in 2013.
Several problems remain for GPP. One is monitoring it: there is no agreed- upon methodology so it remains difficult to compare results across countries. Also many authorities do not know enough about what is on offer to specify exactly what they want. Often they do not check that suppliers deliver what they promise either, because they do not have the technical capacity to do so. Meanwhile, suppliers say often-changing – and nationally- specific – requirements make it hard to meet demand with standard products.