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| Helping public authorities provide environmental reliefEurope’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.
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 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.”
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.
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.