Public procurement and the transition to circular economy

Public procurement is increasingly seen as an important instrument for reaching strategic goals in the transition towards circular economy and not merely as the process of buying products and services on behalf of the national, regional or local administration and the private sector. Circular procurement is a type of green procurement which takes into account aspects of product circularity during the whole procedure, starting from the preparatory/planning phase to the end-of-use phase.

In other words, circular procurement can be defined as 'the process by which public authorities purchase works, goods or services that seek to contribute to closed energy and material loops within supply chains, whilst minimising, and in the best case avoiding, negative environmental impacts and waste creation across their whole life-cycle'.  

The EU supports the uptake of the new, green, innovative and circular procurement practices and this is highlighted in several EU strategic documents such as the Circular Economy Action Plan. The basic principle for circular procurement is to apply a full lifecycle approach as much as realistically possible and to consider aspects like reparability, reuse, remanufacturing, recycling and others while purchasing goods and services. 

Some European regions are also taking steps in this direction. As part of the environment and resource efficiency thematic objective the Interreg Europe Programme provides support to improve policies for the up-take of innovative procurement approaches. Projects focusing on procurement are GPP4Growth (Green Public Procurement to Achieve Green Growth), CircPro (Smart Circular Procurement) and GPP-STREAM (Green Public Procurement and Sustainability Tools for Resource Efficiency Mainstreaming). Aspects of green public procurement are also addressed by SYMBI project (Industrial Symbiosis for Regional Sustainable Growth and a Resource Efficient Circular Economy).

Let’s have a closer look at an innovative initiative from Flanders (Belgium) about circular procurement, identified thanks to GPP4Growth

Flemish Green Deal Circular Procurement 

The Government of Flanders, Belgium, has assigned priority to circular economy as one of the seven transition priorities and circular procurement is considered an essential tool for encouraging this transition.  Inspired by the Dutch Green Deals in circular procurement, the Green Deal for Circular Procurement (GDCP) was set up in January 2017 in Flanders, with the aim to promote its  benefits and stimulate knowledge building and exchange on the topic.

The initiative is implemented by Circular Flanders which is a partnership of public authorities, companies, civil society, education and research institutions  aiming to take action together to support the transition to circular economy. With the GDCP, Circular Flanders aims to help buyers change their procurement processes. In return the purchasers share their experiences in a learning network and the participants set up two circular procurement pilot projects. In implementing these pilots, buyers will choose one or more goals that will guide them towards circular products and services. These goals are: 

  • reduce the total amount of materials;
  • reduce the non-renewable virgin input;
  • extend the use/lifetime of products;
  • stimulate the potential reuse of products and components;
  • stimulate the potential recycling of products and materials.

101 public and private procurers and 52 facilitators, bringing their expertise, have signed the GDCP. The project is still ongoing, but it is expected that over 200 pilot actions will showcase the success of circular procurement and promote the circular flow of materials, the use of new business models and the establishment of strategic partnerships along the value chain. In the end the participants will become promoters of circular procurement and can inform other purchasers on the financial, social and environmental advantages of circular economy.

A shared online learning platform was created offering webinars, a Q&A on legislation and a library. In addition, an online tool was developed to support procurers in setting goals and ambitions by selecting strategies to achieve the goals and following up on their progress. Eight 'offline action and inspiration days' brought participants together to map sectoral ambitions and needs, showcase good examples and create partnerships and engage in peer-to-peer learning. Two ‘Buyer meets Supplier’ events allowed procurers to meet ‘circular’ suppliers and obtain information about their products and offers. Suppliers gained an insight into the circular demand and limitations perceived by the procurers. 

Another goal of the GDCP is to contribute to the integration of circular procurement into the national regulatory and legislative framework. Besides the learning network and pilot actions, research on indicators and tools will be done to create an open source of information.

How can local and regional authorities stimulate circular procurement?

The experience of the Flemish Green Deal revealed several knowledge gaps that hamper the uptake of circular procurement approaches. These are linked to, for example, understanding the life-cycle assessment and possibilities for circular procurement within the public procurement. Good examples from the regions that have already made progress in stimulating circular procurement will help others that are taking the first steps in this direction. The best approach for the latter is to start with a strategy or policy for greening the current procurement practices and encouraging circularity in their own purchasing decisions. That would help to apply environmental considerations from the very beginning of the procurement procedure and develop more holistic understanding of environmental impacts and waste creation across the whole life-cycle of goods and services. 

The methodology of Green Deal in Flanders could be replicated in other countries and regions in Europe, taking into account regional specificities and legislation. The good practice is an inspiring example of taking proactive approach in building knowledge in circular procurement not only by creating a learning network but also by setting up concrete projects that demonstrate how circularity can be integrated in procurement processes. 

Find more information about Flemish Green Deal Circular Procurement in this good practice and over here.

Further reading

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