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Guest Article: National governments should follow EU push for more sustainability in public procurement

Monday, October 15, 2018

This is a guest article by Louise Koch (Corporate Sustainability Director EMEA, Dell EMC) on Sustainable Public Procurement and the Parliament’s Draft Resolution that 'calls on the Member States to use public procurement strategically in order to promote an innovative, sustainable, circular and socially responsible economy’.


National governments should follow EU push for more sustainability in public procurement

Every year the circa 250,000 public authorities in the European Union spend over €2 trillion of tax payers’ money buying services, goods and supplies.  Ranging from centralised national bodies to schools, hospitals and small local city councils, these decision makers manage the equivalent of 14 percent of the EU’s GDP.

Both the EU and the UN recognise that more should be done to leverage that purchasing power to deliver real impact.

In agreeing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the international community set target 12.7 for “public procurement practices that are sustainable in accordance with national policies and priorities.” And with the requirement to target emissions-related climate change as part of the Paris Agreement, we should not forget the potential for suppliers to enable countries to meet their targets. For example, in the 2017 report, Missing link: Harnessing the power of purchasing for a sustainable future, Carbon Disclosure Project reported that on average, supply chain emissions are four times that of an organisation’s direct operational emissions. And Stanford University has estimated ICT hardware could be responsible for 10% of global electricity consumption.

Across the EU, public bodies are responsible for buying 2.8 million computers annually, which accounts for 12 percent of the market. EU research into quantifying the effects of Green Public Procurement found that if the European market could be moved to producing slightly more efficient PCs over 8 million tonnes of CO2 could be saved - equivalent to the emissions of almost one million people.

So it’s easy to see how procurement decisions made by national and local authorities could have a significant environmental and societal impact. Accordingly the EU revised the rules for public procurement in 2014, which most member states have transposed into national legislation by now. However, the actual implementation is still lacking behind when it comes to sustainable procurement.

The new legislation now makes it easier for public authorities to take sustainability criteria into account at different stages of their procurement procedures. But according to research by the European Commission, 55 percent of public procurement procedures still use the lowest price as the only award criterion, at the expense of social and environmental factors. This is why the European Commission is seeking to encourage a broader uptake of sustainability criteria as part of its new Public Procurement Strategy from 2017.

On 4th October the European Parliament debated the proposals of the Commission and has come up with some of its own recommendations. Backing the Commission’s strategy, the Parliament’s Draft Resolution ‘Calls on the Member States to use public procurement strategically in order to promote an innovative, sustainable, circular and socially responsible economy’. As the text notes, one of the challenges has been in getting member states to see that these criteria should also take into account ‘the costs of resource use, maintenance and disposal, which are not reflected in the purchase price, especially as there is an enormous potential for savings over the life-cycle.’

The European Parliament report on the Public Procurement Strategy Package, which included the above proposal, was adopted with 534 votes in favour, 54 against and 15 abstentions.

In order to achieve this, the draft Resolution calls on the Commission to ‘finalise swiftly (…) the Guide on socially responsible public procurement, in order to facilitate the implementation of the respective legal provisions in the Member States’.

As one of the leading technology providers to governments around the world, we agree this is critical and have made significant investments to live up to our own responsibilities in this regard.  But we often are told by public customers that they are reluctant to apply sustainability criteria as part of a public tender, as it is impractical or they are not sure how best to do so. It appears that clear guidelines on all aspects of sustainable procurement, more training, more resources and more efficient processes are badly needed to help public buyers make the most of the new possibilities.

We’ve set a goal for the good that comes from using Dell technology to be 10 times what it takes to create and use it. Our Legacy of Good Plan commits us to ambitious goals for 2020 including reducing the energy intensity of our product portfolio by 80%; 100% of sustainable materials for product packaging; and sourcing 50% of our total electricity from renewables. And we are on target to meet these goals. We see this as a way of delivering what customers want whilst saving money and having a positive impact – it’s just good business sense.

We therefore welcome the European Parliament resolution, which will help to uphold the political pressure on national governments in this important matter.  We hope the European Commission and the Member States will heed its recommendations and take initiatives to increase the uptake of sustainable procurement across Europe. The direct positive impact on people and the environment will be further amplified by spill-over effects on procurement practices in the private sector. European governments must not miss this unique opportunity to change the world for the better.


The European Court of Auditors produced a report on access to EU public procurements, which you can find below: