Why and how should public buyers implement social and sustainable criteria in their purchases?

News Detail







This article is written by Delfina Curi, Sustainable Economy and Procurement Officer, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and Jon Jonoski, Communications and Member Relations Officer, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability

  • The problem: Public authorities miss out on social and environmental gains by not implementing sustainable procurement practices.
  • Why it matters: 14% of the European Union’s GDP is used for public procurement. It’s a tool that can be used much more to achieve sustainable policy goals.
  • The solution: Public procurers should include social and environmental criteria in their tender.

Sustainable public procurement is used to ensure that purchases reflect policy objectives related to resource efficiency, climate change, social responsibility and economic resilience. In this process, the goal is to achieve a balance within the three pillars of sustainable development: environmental, social, and economic. It is about driving behavioural and market change by governments taking the lead and showing others what can be done.

As an example of this, when procuring food and catering, some public administrations are considering environmental sustainability by reducing the use of plastic and the promotion of circular waste management, as well as requiring the use of organic and seasonal fruits and vegetables. In the procurement of transport, some public administrations are promoting the installation of solar charging stations, while other ones are procuring hybrid buses for public transport and requiring the use of zero-emission or fossil fuel free vehicles.

First steps to sustainable procurement

To implement sustainable procurement, public administrations are advised to set a step-by-step approach: set clear targets, priorities and timeframes; assess the actual needs; check what the scope of the procurement is, such as for one department or the whole organisation. Other strategies may include identifying the main environmental impacts that have to be considered, and giving the tender a green title so it immediately conveys that the environmental performance of the product or service will be a key part of the contract. In addition, by searching among existing contracts, it is possible to find that some sustainability criteria are already being applied. Finally, having clear targets helps to assess progress and to communicate your intentions within the organisation and to the general public.

More info

Want to stay up to date?

Sign up to our mailing list to receive regular updates on the most exciting news, research, case studies, and events related to sustainable design.