Sustainability lacking in public purchasing

All too often, public funds are used to purchase goods and services that are selected without regard for environmental or social responsibility. In Europe, the new EU Public Purchasing Directive offers governments an opportunity to tighten legislation surrounding sustainable purchasing, and for buyers at the local level to take advantage of existing opportunities to make more sustainable product choices.

A new report from Sweden, Sustainable public procurement – from rhetoric to practice, takes a closer look at sustainable purchasing in the public sector and examines some common myths associated with including sustainability factors in the process. Deficiencies are identified in current legislation aimed at encouraging greater focus on sustainability factors in purchasing contracts. The study concludes that there is a need for tighter legislation, but also for buyers to take a greater responsibility at the grass roots level, by making more use of tools, such as third party certifications, available to them today.

The report is published by a group of sustainability organizations based in Sweden, including TCO Development, Fair Trade Sweden, MSC, the Association for Nature Conservation, KRAV, New Wave Group, 2050 Consulting and Ecolabelling Sweden. Together, these organizations have over 100 years experience in public purchasing, sustainability criteria and environmental strategy.

Sören Enholm, CEO of TCO Development and Ragnar Unge, CEO at Ecolabeling Sweden comments on the collaboration; “This report represents a unique cooperation between organizations with a long background in solutions for public purchasers. We hope this report will encourage both lawmakers and procurement professionals to become more engaged in sustainability issues when buying products and services.

The new EU Public Purchasing Directive is currently being implemented by all member states. Provisions in the Directive give greater room for purchasers to make use of third party certifications as part of sustainable purchasing practice. Third party programs can support purchasers by providing current, relevant criteria and built-in routines for assessing and verifying compliance of the products they buy, something which is often too complex and resource-intensive for purchasers to do themselves.

The authors urge public entities to take greater responsibility for ensuring that products purchased with public funds meet sustainability criteria throughout the life cycle. Using third party certifications in various product categories is an effective way to do this, and in turn, help reach broader national climate and sustainability goals.

Buyer demand for third party certification provides greater incentive for brands and manuufacturers to not only certify their products, but also improve the overall environmental and social aspects of their business.