With great spending power comes great responsibility. The UK public sector buys £220 billion worth of goods and services every year – more than the combined GDPs of New Zealand and the Ukraine. Throw in the equivalent figures from across the EU, and you quickly realise how big a player the public sector is in Europe – a market worth an estimated EUR1.8 trillion.
This is a big chunk of money to spend on things which can have huge impacts on the environment – from keeping the lights on and keeping the printer topped up with paper, to sourcing office furniture and choosing ecologically-sound (or not) cleaning services.
And the impacts are big – Hamburg’s decision to ban wasteful Nespresso-style disposable coffee pods made headlines earlier this year.
One way to make sure this money is used as responsibly as possible – and to boost green businesses – is Green Public Procurement, or GPP. A policy instrument agreed by all EU Member States to be exploited on a larger scale, GPP attempts to standardise what’s green and what isn’t in the world of public spending.
And it’s central to how the get the best out of the Commission’s Circular Economy Package: the huge spending power can unlock market demand for more efficiently-designed and packaged products, and boost reuse networks and new business models to cut waste and keep resources in the economy.
GPP measures can also save local authorities money. Longer-lasting, easily-repaired products, or more energy-efficient may have higher cost prices, but their life-cycle costs are often lower, with reduced running costs, lower repair bills and less need for replacement.
Success stories can already be found across the EU. In Regensburg, a city in south-east Germany, GPP measures were used to source utilities, saving EUR 10 million over 15 years.
In Venlo, a region in the south-east of the Netherlands, the local authority built a new municipal building on strict GPP criteria. Architects were charged with designing a building that put recyclability of materials, air and climate quality, renewable energy and water quality first, and mandated that furniture should have a minimum lifespan of ten years, with no toxic materials. The building is set to open this month.
Scaling up these examples and unleashing the potential of GPP across the EU is a long way off though While some countries moving towards mandatory GPP requirements – a national GPP law is set to enter into force in Italy – a number of others are set to miss the April 2016 deadline to implement the 2014 procurement directives. The task is now to scale up this up across Europe – and it remains to be seen what the European Commission’s commitment to “action on Green Public Procurement” in 2016-2018 entails.