European challenges and means of improving legislation and measurement of green public procurement

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The current Finnish government has set an ambitious goal to include carbon- and environmental footprints in the criteria for public procurement that may have significant environmental impacts.[1] The draft of national strategy of Finland for public procurement also emphasises ecological sustainability (including carbon- and environmental footprints) as a key objective.[2] In practice, there is room for improvement, as so far only less than half of the public procurement in Finland include specific environmental criteria.[3]

The leading experts of green public procurement (GPP) from different countries and organisations met in June in the workshop organised by HILMI project. The aim was to obtain insights into concrete examples and experiences – also critical observations on the main advantages and shortcomings – of ways to further develop the legislation and the measurement of the greening of public procurement. 

“The exchange of thoughts was very lively, and led to many important findings,” noted the very satisfied moderators of the panel discussions, professor Harri Kalimo and Dr. Max Jansson. 

International insights into the GPP

Challenges for the improvement of the GPP are quite similar in different countries. For example, in defining the most important product groups, political commitment on prioritisation is needed. The GPP criteria for the product groups must consider market needs and readiness, and contracting authorities should have enough resources and knowledge to be able to use the criteria. In addition, the criteria must be verifiable.

In general, life cycle assessment (LCA) is seen as a useful approach to build the criteria on, but the targeted stakeholder group (e.g. industry) should be well integrated in the development of the criteria. On GPP criteria, the preference tends to be towards product specific and sectoral approaches, which enable more detailed criteria and monitoring requirements.

Horizontal approaches are seen to create value by determining the general level of ambition and offering political backing. Horizontal general targets may serve as a starting point for the GPP, while vertical product group measures allow setting specific environmental requirements. A clear national public procurement strategy with achievable targets that highlights both business and environmental aspects, is considered important.

Monitoring of the impacts as the missing piece

A common observation among the experts is that tools and systems to monitor the impacts of the GPP are either lacking or under development. The centralization of data collection is seen important, as are more specific requirements on the provision of data. Different options to measure impacts can be digital data collection, benchmarking, and various calculator tools. However, the monitoring of the impacts remains modest, for instance for the fear of it entailing a substantial administrative burden. Much remains to be investigated on how the data gathering works in practice (i.e. who assess the impacts, and who calculates and monitors them) and how the coordination of the monitoring activities could be arranged at different levels and amongst various actors.

Think global, act local

It was interesting to find out that concrete general or sectoral environmental targets and other actions, such as climate budgets at the local level, may increase the political leverage of the procurement discussions. Understanding the impacts and benefits of the GPP at local level in reaching these targets may help to make the public procurement both greener and more effective.

“It seems that public procurers are willing to make their procurement greener. To make this happen, capacity building, as well as concrete and useful tools to follow-up and measure the real impacts of procurement, are needed,” ponder Dr. Katriina Alhola, Dr. Sanna Lehtinen, and Dr. Mirella Miettinen, researchers in the HILMI project.

HILMI project

HILMI[4] project generates information on the inclusion of carbon and environmental footprints in public procurement in Finland. The project is part of the Government’s research activities for the year 2020. The project is implemented by the University of Eastern Finland (UEF), Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), LUT University, and the Institute for European Studies (IES) of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). HILMI focuses on legal solutions, other steering methods and the measurement and monitoring of the greening of public procurement in support of decision making. 

HILMI organised an international virtual workshop on 16 and 17 June for the leading experts of GPP from different countries and organisations. The experts comprised of policymakers, practitioners, and academics. The workshop consisted of seven sessions, organised around specific topics within the general themes of legislation and measurement. The sessions explored for example the most important product groups, the monitoring of contracting authorities, outcomes and impacts, and detailed GPP criteria. The aim was to obtain insights into concrete examples and experiences – also critical observations on the main advantages and shortcomings – of ways to further develop the legislation and the measurement of the greening of public procurement. The information and findings from the workshop will be used at the following stage of HILMI project: the development of concrete policy recommendations for the Finnish government

References

[1] Finnish Government, Programme of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Government 10 December 2019. Inclusive and Competent Finland – a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable society. Publications of the Finnish Government 2019:33.
[2] Suomen kansallinen julkisten hankintojen strategia. Tiivistelmäluonnos 6/2020
[3] Valtiovarainministeriö, Suomen julkisten hankintojen tilannekuva. Valtiovarainministeriön julkaisuja – 2020:25.
[4] Hiili- ja ympäristöjalanjälki hankinnoissa – lainsäädäntö ja mittaaminen (HILMI)

Authors

Harri Kalimo, Professor (environmental and economic law), UEF Law School
Institute for European Studies (Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB))
Principal Investigator of HILMI project
Contact: harri.kalimo@uef.fi, +32 498 974 707

Mirella Miettinen, Senior Researcher (environmental law), UEF Law School
Contact: mirella.miettinen@uef.fi, +358 50 4720510

Katriina Alhola, Senior Researcher, Finnish Environment Institute
Contact: katriina.alhola@ymparisto.fi, +358 29 525 1065

Max Jansson,Researcher, Institute for European Studies (Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB))

Sanna Lehtinen, Project Researcher (environmental law), UEF Law School

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