Government to lead in green procurement

A resounding call for the public sector to "buy green" was issued this week by Environment Minister Elliot Morley as he announced stricter sustainable purchasing targets.

At the Defra conference, Implementing sustainable procurement, he said the Government must lead the country from the inside out by setting an example and using its buying power to change attitudes. Mr Morley added that sustainable procurement was not just about environmental imperatives, but also ethical issues such as social justice.

"The new targets will lock in more sustainable purchasing requirements, which in turn will send a clear message to manufacturers about the demand for sustainable materials," he stated.

"The long term benefits of shifting away from the current low price, low quality trend could be huge and the Government is keen to keep this issue moving forwards."

Mr Morley said the targets require all central Government departments and their Executive Agencies to:

  • Draw up an environmental purchasing policy and integrate it with departmental procurement, including measuring and reporting mechanisms, by 1 December 2005
  • Work with suppliers to find sustainable solutions to goods and services, implementing environmental supply chain management programmes where appropriate
  • Include environmental consideration clauses in all contracts for goods or services
  • Incorporate sustainable development into all building and refurbishment construction projects
  • Replace or modify ozone-depleting refrigeration, air conditioning and fire protection equipment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

    Director of Health Policy at the King's Fund Anna Coote, who chaired the conference, said the targets were a major step in the long term to ensuring that everyone lived in a strong, healthy and just society.

    "The Government has an immense and largely untapped power to send message out to markets about their purchasing decisions," she said. "Sustainable procurement should be an essential part of any democratic society - it makes good economic sense and provides mutually rewarding benefits."

    One example of the impact that sustainable purchasing could have was evident in the case of the NHS, according to Ms Coote, which spends billions of pounds on food each year and produces an average of 300 million meals every day.

    Where they had previously bought the cheapest products to keep costs down, she said they now recognised that buying sustainable products were the most economic in the long term, as they helped to safeguard the environment, local communities and population health - which ultimately affected their business.

    However, she also pointed out that, although Mr Morley's announcement proved the Government was making encouraging movements in the right direction, stronger leadership was still needed on this issue.

    "There is still much work to be done to drive sustainable procurement forward in the public sector," she said.

    By Jane Kettle

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