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Driving the transition to sustainable procurement

Submitted by on 29 Sep 2016 – 12:06

The city of Helsinki has committed to act as a global and regional champion of sustainable public procurement. In an interview with Government Gazette, Pekka Sauri, Deputy Mayor of Helsinki, explains how important sustainable procurement is in making European cities smarter, more resilient and sustainable

Every procurement decision we craft has an immediate effect on our environment, economy and the society. As Helsinki is currently pushing to drive a transition to sustainable consumption and production by purchasing sustainably, can you elaborate on Helsinki’s current sustainable procurement strategies and explain how it aims to achieve 100% sustainable procurement by 2020?

The City of Helsinki attaches great importance to its environmental program. Since 2012, the City Council has had an environmental policy in place to tackle topics such as climate protection, environmental awareness and material efficiency. We see sustainable procurement as a key tool in implementing this policy and achieving our long-term goals. Clearly, responsible public procurement represents a tremendous opportunity not only to make our societies more sustainable, but also to ensure social justice and fair treatment.

In 2013, we established an internal working group dedicated to making our procurements more environmentally friendly. The group aims to reinforce cooperation and information exchange between the different departments in charge of the city’s procurements. The group has worked on a number of topics, including the definition of environmental criteria for use in Helsinki’s tenders and the monitoring of contracts once they have been awarded.

In 2015, we published a city guide for sustainable procurement which contains concrete instructions and examples on how environmental criteria can be used in various procurement processes. Last year, 50% of the city’s procurement processes included environmental criteria. This year, it is 60%, and we will continue until we reach 100% in 2020. To achieve this goal, we are providing training to all city departments and subsidiaries on how to purchase sustainably.

Can you provide some examples or case studies on how environmental criteria can be utilized in various procurements?

One of the keys to ensuring the long term success of sustainable procurement is to be able to monitor the impact of including sustainable criteria within tenders. Helsinki’s Procurement Centre was an associate partner in the GPP 2020 project, which ended earlier this year. Through this project, we were able to measure the impact of our low carbon tenders in terms of tonnes of carbon dioxide and fuel equivalent. One very successful example of this was a framework contract for the purchase and renewal of IT equipment. After engaging with the market to determine an appropriate ambition level for the criteria, the invitation to tender specified long lifecycle products which met the latest energy star criteria as a minimum. Extra points were awarded for lower energy usage and a clear recycling process. This tender achieved energy savings of 27% and cost savings of 72,000 euros over the lifetime of the products.

How does Helsinki’s procurement policies and practices benefit local businesses?

Sustainable and innovative procurement are drivers for boosting green growth and contribute to the development of SMEs. We encourage local business to develop innovation and sustainable solutions that can be bought by the City. Engaging with the market as early as possible is an important way of ensuring they are prepared when the tender is launched. As described in the previous example, we work hard to understand what is currently available and ensure that suppliers are aware of what we are looking for in terms of sustainability criteria. In this way, we hope to move the market and open up our tenders to smaller businesses.

As one of the leading cities on sustainable procurement, how do you intend to accelerate the implementation of sustainable procurement worldwide?

Helsinki has committed to act as a global and regional champion of sustainable public procurement (SPP) and this is a responsibility we take very seriously. One of the best ways for cities to get engaged in sustainable procurement is by learning from the experiences of others. I am currently Chair of the Procura+ European Sustainable Procurement Network, which brings together more than 40 European public authorities to share information and best practice on sustainable and innovation procurement. We are also a founding participant of the Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement, where we are leading from the front by setting very ambitious sustainable procurement targets that can be replicated by others.

How important is sustainable procurement in making European cities smarter, more resilient and sustainable?

Sustainable procurement is smart procurement. It’s about making good use of citizens’ money to make the city a better place for them. Every single purchasing decision of the City of Helsinki has an impact on the environment, on our economy and on our city. Often, the smartest procurement can be the one you did not make. Taking a considered and holistic approach can lead to better decisions, such as reusing products, procuring jointly to increase efficiency gains or investing in a different model – for example, leasing rather than purchasing products. By first deciding whether or not we need to buy certain products or to contract certain services, and afterwards by introducing smart and sustainable criteria in our tenders, we move towards smartness, resilience and sustainable development. Local governments can and must link their purchases to their broader goals, and this is what Helsinki is doing.

If we want to improve energy efficiency, we might need to engage with companies to explain what our needs are and learn what solutions they can provide. If we want to become more resilient, we can address GHG emissions, raw material usage and the management of natural resources by introducing the right criteria in our tenders. If we want to boost sustainability, procurement is essential to achieve social, economic and environmental value for money.

What do you see as key considerations for the future of sustainable procurement?

We live in a world which is increasingly conscious of the finite nature of the resources at our disposal.  On top of this, cities and towns over the world are finding themselves facing more complex needs with limited budget capacity.

Sustainable procurement is a very important method of ensuring we don’t overstep the ecological boundaries which face us. But if we are to win the economic argument, we also need to show that it is financially sound. This is why the circular economy is such an important concept right now. By finding ways to decrease our consumption and reuse our waste, we will both reduce our ecological footprint and make sure that we are securing an environmentally and financially sustainable future.