Brussels calls on EU to adopt sustainable procurement

The message to "buy green" is being sent out clearly to Member States from Brussels in a new handbook for public authorities and institutions such as hospitals and schools.

Methods of introducing environmental criteria into calls for tender are explained in clear, non-technical language in the EU’s Green Public Procurement by the European Commission.

Particular emphasis is put on the need to take into account the cost of the lifecycle of purchased products, and the manual’s publication follows the recent implementation of directives that aim to encourage public authorities to introduce ecological criteria in their tendering processes.

“The environment is still unfortunately a secondary objective in public procurement policies,” said Jerome Michon, spokesman and active participant in the City of Lille’s attempts to train municipal purchasers to choose sustainable products and services.

“The separation of contracting authorities into administrative and legal departments on the one hand and technical departments on the other does not promote a global vision of purchasing policies,” he explained.

The recent Relief study published by the European Commission noted that if all public authorities in Europe switched to greener energy sources, it would reduce CO2 emissions by 62 million tonnes, which is equal to 18% of the greenhouse gas reduction objective set by the EU under the Kyoto Protocol.

It also shows that if all administrations influenced general demand by buying ecologically efficient office equipment, carbon dioxide emissions would be further reduced by over 830,000 tonnes.

However, the study also shows that only 19% of public administrations in the EU do actually buy “green” to any extent that makes a considerable positive difference by applying sustainable criteria to at least half of their purchases.

“Owing to their enormous purchasing power, public authorities can make an effective contribution to sustainable development in the EU and at the same time strengthen the EU’s competitiveness in environmental technologies,” Margot Wallstrom, Environment Commissioner and vice president of the European Commission, pointed out.

She added that purchasing authorities could influence negative external environmental factors associated with not only the consumption and disposal of products, but also with the actual production process.

“Green public procurement enables environmental technologies to become established in the market through an increase in demand for the production of environmentally friendly goods. The potential is therefore enormous,” Ms Wallstrom conceded.

British Environment Minister Elliot Morley recently announced the Government’s decision to lead industry with their example on green procurement issues (see related story).

Other Member States including France, Austria and Sweden have also begun to develop projects and initiatives to encourage authorities to buy and endorse greener, more sustainable products and services.

By Jane Kettle

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