Public sector to use its spending power to promote circularity

Public sector to use its spending power to promote circularity

With green public procurement becoming more and more commonplace, greater emphasis on circularity in procurement strategies could yield additional benefits. The Nordic Council of Ministers recently released two publications that address how the public sector could use its purchasing power to promote circular production and consumption patterns: the report Circular Public Procurement in the Nordic Countries and a guide to the green procurement of textiles in the healthcare sector.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Nordic co-operation on circular public procurement
The Nordic Council of Ministers has launched a range of initiatives to promote the circular economy and improve resource efficiency. One such initiative is the report Circular Procurement in the Nordic Countries, the result of a study carried out by the Finnish Environment Institute, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and Copenhagen Resource Institute.

The report reviews circular public procurement processes in the Nordic Region, spanning everything from the procurement of work clothes to large building and construction tenders and public transportation. Based on these cases, the report identifies product groups and sectors in which public procurement could serve as a tool to promote the principles of the circular economy.

“We found several sectors in which circular procurement could be applied to overcome unsustainable consumption and production patterns,” says Katriina Alhola, Senior Researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute. “These are sectors with high purchasing volumes and good opportunities for creating circular economy businesses, such as construction, waste management, wastewater management and transportation as well as food, furniture and textiles.”

Public-sector demand accelerates product development
The report describes circular procurement as procurement that is aimed at promoting closed material loops and value retention, e.g. by favouring the remanufacture and reuse of products and materials. The highlighted sectors exemplify the four main approaches to circular procurement identified by the study: procurement of better quality products; new circular products; business concepts based on the circular economy; and procurement that promotes investment in circular ecosystems.

The report finds that public-sector demand in these sectors could accelerate product development, e.g. by applying criteria that extend product lifespan, contribute to intensified product use, and enhance the recycling of natural and technical materials.

“Circular procurement is already being implemented to some extent through traditional green procurement, simply by applying criteria that support the principles of circular economy,” says Alhola. “The next step, however, is innovative procurement that allows the public sector to promote the development of new technologies and solutions within the circular economy.”

Greener textiles in healthcare – new procurement guidelines
Greener Textiles in Hospitals: Guide to green procurement in the healthcare sector takes a closer look at one of these product groups. The guide was produced as part of an action plan put forward by the Danish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2015, aimed at increasing the sustainability of the fashion and textile industries in the Nordic Region.

“Public markets for the textile and clothing industry are estimated at a value of approximately €10 billion per year in the EU,” says Birgitte Jørgensen Kjær of the Danish Environment Agency. “The public sector and the hospitals in the Nordic countries are in a good position to create demand for more environmentally friendly textiles.”

The guide describes the main challenges involved in procuring textiles for hospitals, and provides guidance on the efficient management of the procurement process, including early market dialogue to ensure that public tenders specify the latest materials and technologies. The guide also contains information on the EU’s criteria for green textiles and the occurrence of chemicals, as well as advice on the use of environmental labels in procurement, e.g. the EU Flower and the Nordic Swan Ecolabel.

“The choice of materials is a key issue with regard to the environment, price and comfort, and also hygiene, which is a top priority for hospitals,” Kjær says. “All of these aspects must be taken into account when choosing between cotton, synthetics and new materials like Tencel, which is produced from wood fibres, as well as when choosing between single-use or reusable textiles.”

New ways to procure and consume textiles
According to Alhola, one of the key objectives of circular procurement is to stimulate the creation of business concepts that deliver new circular products and lifecycle-based service concepts.

“One of the core ideas is that we should be buying services instead of products,” she says.

Kjær and Alhola cite as an example service concepts in the textile industry, which often include everything from planning, maintenance, repair and modification to the reuse and recycling of textiles. Instead of buying textile products, many hospitals use services where the same supplier delivers and washes the textiles. The guide addresses how these services, as well as the concept of total cost of ownership, can be implemented through public tenders.

“Better quality textiles might be relatively expensive, but if they last longer then the cost per year will be lower,” says Kjær. “One of our conclusions is that while recycling is important, prolonging the textiles’ lifespan delivers even greater environmental benefits.”

“It’s important to note, however, that we also need to put supportive structures in place, e.g. more efficient recycling,” Alhola adds. “We must ensure that there’s a well-functioning aftermarket or end-user network for the re-use of products that are released after the procurers’ use.”

The environmental consultancy Planmiljø produced the guide in co-operation with the Danish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Nordic Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, a network of hospitals in all five Nordic nation states, Åland and the Faroe Islands. Greener Textiles in Hospitals: Guide to green procurement in the healthcare sector is available in English, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish.

Download the publications:

Circular Public Procurement in the Nordic Countries

Greener textiles in hospitals: Guide to green procurement in the healthcare sector

“We found several sectors in which circular procurement could be applied to overcome unsustainable consumption and production patterns”

Katriina Alhola, Senior Researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute

“The public sector and the hospitals in the Nordic countries are in a good position to create demand for more environmentally friendly textiles”

Birgitte Jørgensen Kjær of the Danish Environment Agency