Commission issues guidelines for environment-friendly purchases

The European Commission has clarified how Community law offers numerous possibilities to public authorities wishing to integrate environmental considerations into purchasing decisions.

A new EC Communication explains how environmental concerns may be taken into account at each separate stage of the contract award procedure. As public procurement amounts to over €1,000 billion (£610 billion) every year across the European Union, some 14% of EU GDP, ‘greening’ these purchases could contribute substantially to sustainable development, the Commission says.

The Communication interprets existing law, comprising EC Treaty Internal Market rules and the public procurement Directives and examines the different stages in a procurement procedure, explaining how, at each stage, the protection of the environment may be taken into account. For example, when defining the subject matter of a contract, public purchasers can, like private purchasers, decide to buy environmentally-friendly products or services, defined according to their environmental performance and the production process used.

This means that public authorities could, for example, request that energy for public buildings is supplied from a renewable source, or that food for a school canteen comes from organic produce.

The Communication also explains how contracting authorities can define technical specifications related to environmental performance of a product in line with ‘Eco-label’ criteria. Tax advantages for products carrying such a label are currently under discussion. As a follow up to the Communication, the Commission intends to produce a practical handbook on green public procurement, aimed at local authorities, and containing examples of best practice in green public procurement throughout the EU, as well as practical guidance on how to integrate the environment into day to day purchasing without infringing internal market rules.

“I would like to encourage public authorities to seize the opportunities offered by this Communication to ensure that the public not only benefits from savings through the purchase of energy efficient or recyclable goods, but also from the contribution that green public procurement could make to environmental issues such as combating climate change or improving waste management,” commented EC Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallström.

However, the EU Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Belgium, comprised of 140 of the largest American companies, said that the EC’s plans could run counter to global procurement rules and described eco-labelling as “backward looking and innovation stifling”.

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