Good Practice
Sustainable Public Procurement – A Global Study of Progress

A recent study, Global Review of Sustainable Public Procurement 2017, by the United Nations Environment Programme, has now been completed and is available thanks to a grant allocated by the Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute and the European Union. It was conducted in the framework of the 10YFP Sustainable Public Procurement Programme, and examines the state of sustainable public procurement (SPP) policies and practices undertaken by national governments worldwide in the past five years. Looking at 41 national governments and analysing more than 200 SPP stakeholders on sustainable practices in their organisations, the report tracks the global progress of SPP and explores the collective understanding of the current barriers, needs, opportunities and innovations.

At a 123 pages, it is not a quick read, packed with data and graphics, but it is segmented well so you can go straight to what interests you.

To set the scene for the research it explains that “Public procurement wields enormous purchasing power, accounting for an average of 12 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in OECD countries, and up to 30 percent of GDP in many developing countries. Leveraging this purchasing power by buying more sustainable goods and services can help drive markets in the direction of sustainability, reduce the negative impacts of an organization, and also produce positive benefits for the environment and society.”

But it does clarify later in the report that: “The four good practice examples provided in the 2017 Global Review illustrate that SPP goes beyond ‘picking greener products’ and encompasses activities at every step of the procurement cycle. They illustrate that successful implementation requires the engagement of stakeholders – sometimes over many years. Changing decision-making and procedural practices such as procurement takes time, skills and leadership. Given the reality of large, complex organizations, successful SPP requires far more than technical changes, it requires cultural change as well.”

The report covers:

– Sustainable public procurement in national governments, including policy frameworks supporting SPP, implementation of SPP, and monitoring and evaluation of SPP implementation.

– Global trends in sustainable procurement, including the stakeholder survey participants, trends in SP, monitoring and measuring SP implementation, drivers for SPP implementation, barriers to SPP implementation, stakeholder expectations for future trends in SP practices, emerging topics and trends in SP and the role of international organisations in supporting SP implementation.

Each chapter ends with its own conclusions and the report finishes with overall conclusions and real-life, good practice examples.

Key findings indicate that: SPP is now recognised as a key tool to drive innovation and sustainable development; policies vary widely across national governments; that the scope of SPP is widening to increasingly include multiple sustainability objectives; countries support the implementation of SPP mainly through capacity-building activities and integration in management processes, software and tools; monitoring continues to be a challenge, but countries are increasingly monitoring different aspects of SPP; the perception that sustainable products are more expensive and the lack of expertise on sustainable purchasing remain key barriers to a more extensive implementation of SPP; ecolabels, top-down leadership and the support of international initiatives can help overcome these barriers and drive the implementation of SPP; key success factors are related to private sector engagement, the professionalisation of procurement and effective collaboration among stakeholders. Each of these findings goes deeper into sub-analysis, so well worth a read.

Overall it finds that: “There certainly are signs of SPP practices becoming more embedded in standard procurement activities and processes, but there is still considerable work to be done before sustainability considerations become regular criteria within bid specifications and contracts. SPP implementation is benefiting from transformations already occurring in the way that procurement is conducted – with greater professionalization of procurement practices leading to more strategic and transparent processes.”

Although this year’s global review focuses primarily on SPP in national governments, it did also found that systainablr procurement activities are on the rise in all types of organisation, including local governments, non-profits and private sector companies, both large and small.

In terms of regions it found that stakeholders everywhere emphasised the need to build a stronger business case for SP. “Too often,” they say, “SP is not given the right amount of importance and the commitment it requires. Hence, results tend to be slower and ad-hoc. SP programmes need adequate financial and technical resources to truly embed good practices and build a culture that regularly looks for opportunities to use procurement to advance social, economic and environmental objectives.”

It’s a readable and well organised report and filled with plenty of concrete evidence on the state of the SPP environment.

You can download the report here.

And a webinar presenting the main findings has been recorded and you can listen to that here.

Note: the research is complemented by Factsheets on Sustainable Public Procurement in National Governments, detailing the SPP policy frameworks, priorities and implementation activities in place in each country. The supplement will be released shortly and be made available in the Knowledge Hub of the PPI Procurement Forum, which we understand will be published by the end of the month.