Important legal notice
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| Helping public authorities provide environmental relief

Europe’s public authorities have considerable buying power, representing some 15% of GNP (gross national product). ‘Green’ public procurement therefore has significant potential for promoting sustainable development and environment-friendly production. The RELIEF project has made a major step towards quantifying the environmental impact of switching to eco-friendly products and services and establishing clear and easy-to-follow guidelines.

Public authorities have been developing green procurement practices for many years
Public authorities have been developing green procurement practices for many years
In 2001, the European Commission estimated that public authorities in Europe spend some €1 000 billion every year on goods, works and services. The potential environmental impact of public authorities ‘buying green’ – the ‘relief potential’ – could, therefore, be presumed to be relatively high. However, quantifiable and specific data, on a European scale, was not previously available. This was where the RELIEF project came in, running from 2001 to 2003, and involving six local authorities in five countries (Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Sweden and Switzerland) and seven European research organisations.

Green purchasing – facts and figures

Over 2.8 million desktop computers are purchased each year by European public authorities. Buying more energy-efficient models would lower electricity bills – it would also

reduce greenhouse gas emissions by some 830 000 tonnes! If the public sector were to switch from conventional energy sources to more diversified ‘green’ sources of energy this would reduce greenhouse gases even more, helping the EU meet up to as much as 25% of its Kyoto commitments! Likewise, simple water-saving devices installed in public offices could reduce water consumption to an equivalent of over 3 million people. Organic food in public canteens would represent a relief on waters and soil equivalent to the impact of a big city like Berlin. These are just some of the results reached by RELIEF following extensive research.

RELIEF research also challenges the common misconception that green procurement is more costly. Project coordinator, Christoph Erdmenger, points out that, in reality, while some green products indeed cost more, many others cost the same as non-green products but generate savings in other areas, such as energy and water consumption, waste disposal costs and reduction of unnecessary purchasing.

Focusing on key markets

Over 2.8 million desktop computers are purchased each year by European public authorities
Over 2.8 million desktop computers are purchased each year by European public authorities
Public authorities have been developing green procurement practices for many years now although until recently the impact has appeared marginal. One reason given for this is the lack of strategic focus and coordinated efforts on a wide scale. Consequently, the RELIEF project decided to focus its research on six key product areas, for which it has drawn up European guidelines:
  • Electricity from renewable resources
  • Energy-efficient computers and IT office equipment
  • Organic food
  • Construction standards for buildings
  • Cleaning services
  • Public transport

“Focusing on fewer criteria makes sustainable procurement policies easier to apply in practice as public authorities can focus their actions more effectively. It also takes away the ‘doubt’ factor, as buyers have very clear guidelines to follow and can act in confidence knowing their criteria are based on solid research,” notes Erdmenger.

“Another added advantage of applying one set of criteria throughout Europe,” he adds, “is that industry will be more motivated to comply with the agreed standards, which in turn will lead to increased production, lower prices and, hopefully, a knock-on effect on consumer buying habits.”

From theory to practice

The RELIEF project was led and coordinated by the European branch of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. Its aim was to build the knowledge base needed to push green public procurement forward. “There is a high level of interest in the potential of green purchasing, particularly in Southern Europe, but public authorities have lacked the tools to implement policies consistently and effectively,” says Erdmenger. “A stated aim of RELIEF was to go beyond simple data collection to formulate strategies for future action and kick off their implementation. This has resulted directly in the Procura+ link 1 campaign.”

Any public authority can join the campaign, which provides clear guidelines, advice and support in the implementation of a green procurement policy. Simon Clement of ICLEI, coordinator of Procura+, notes that one of the major hurdles for local governments has been lack of information: “RELIEF provided the information base we needed. Now Procura+ is providing an effective framework in which to develop and implement policies.” So far, some 27 local authorities from nine countries have joined Procura+. This is expected to increase significantly once more local authorities become aware of the initiative and the potential benefits for them, for the environment and for their citizens.

Buy it Green

A closely related initiative, also resulting from the RELIEF project, is the Buy it Green Network or BIG-NET. This network of green procurement experts provides a forum for all municipalities and local authorities in Europe to share their green purchasing know-how and broaden their expertise. Membership is open to all on an individual basis and should help build a strong network of sustainable procurement professionals in Europe.

  • RELIEF link 2
  • PROCURA + link 3
  • BIG-NET link 4
  • The Waste Solutions website link 5 – an initiative funded by the European Commission, following up on the results of a ‘cluster’ of six projects dealing with the topic of waste management and avoidance, of which the RELIEF project was one. It provides a useful source of information and links to other relevant sites.

Further information

Simon Clement
ICLEI - Europe
Freiburg, Germany

RELIEF research results are documented in the book “Buying into the Environment: experiences, opportunities and potential for eco-procurement”, which can be obtained from Greenleaf publishing at

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