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Doctoral dissertation: Public procurers could use environmental criteria much more effectively

Press release 2012-10-02 at 10:00

Katriina Alhola (M.Sc. in Economics, M.Sc. in Agriculture and Forestry), Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute, has evaluated the use of environmental criteria in public procurement in her doctoral thesis. She also studied the weighting assigned to environmental aspects as part of the most economically advantageous tender, assessed the applicability of procurement criteria based on life cycle assessment from the perspective of legislation, and compared the environmental criteria set out in calls for tenders and final contracts. The research material comprises approximately 400 tender documents related to public procurement contracts that exceed the EU threshold values in Finland, Sweden and Denmark. The doctoral dissertation will be presented for public examination and debate on Friday 5 October 2012 at noon at the Aalto University in Espoo, Finland.

Green public procurement: a key policy instrument for guiding production and consumption

Green public procurement is considered one of the key policies for promoting sustainable production and consumption. In the European Union, public procurement is regulated by procurement directives, whose primary objectives are to ensure the efficient use of public funds and functioning of the internal market.

In 2003, just under one-third of Finnish calls for tenders above the EU threshold values included environmental criteria, while in 2005, this was the case in more than half of them. “Purchases became greener, particularly in Finland and Sweden, where attention was paid to training and providing guidelines for public procurement authorities after legislative reforms,” says Alhola.

The environmental procurement criteria specified in calls for tenders were usually related to bidders’ environmental policies and environmental management systems, as well as the energy consumption, material content, chemicals, warranty and recycling of the goods and services to be purchased. Environmental criteria were most commonly found in calls for tenders for transport services, vehicles, paper products, cleaning services, office equipment and furniture, construction projects and chemical products. Environmental criteria are more rarely included in final contracts than calls for tenders.

Incorporating life cycle thinking into public procurement

Life cycle assessments and criteria based on life cycle thinking, e.g. eco-label criteria, provide a good foundation for comparing the ‘greenness’ of tenders. Used systematically, they could give a signal to manufacturers of a demand for environmentally friendly products and affect product design in the long term. However, since the interpretation of procurement legislation has emphasised the direct link between environmental criteria and the product to be purchased, the criteria used have often been related to product features that can be assessed. Emissions from production and transport, for example, are more rarely taken into account.

The reform of public procurement directives in 2004 clarified the process for considering environmental aspects as part of the most economically advantageous tender. In 2005, as many as 90% of contracts were awarded using the most economically advantageous tender approach. Nevertheless, the dominant award criterion continued to be price, with a weighting of over 50%. The next most important criteria were quality and delivery terms. On average, the weighting given to environmental criteria was just a few per cent. Social issues was the only area with a lower weighting.

The potential of public procurement to reduce environmental impacts and promote eco-design continues to be largely unexploited. Revision of the EU procurement legislation is currently under way. The Commission’s proposal for a new procurement directive would enable more effective incorporation of life cycle-based environmental considerations into procurement processes. It would also encourage bidders to invest in environmentally sound product design and promote innovative public procurement.

The public sector as a major purchaser

Public procurement accounts for approximately 15% of the gross domestic product of Finland and the EU as a whole. In the 2000s, the average annual spending on public purchases in Finland was between €24 and €27 billion.

The Finnish government issued a resolution (on 8 April 2009) according to which environmental perspectives must be considered in all purchases made by central government, e.g. ministries, by 2015. For municipalities and state local administration, the recommendation is that the environment be taken into account in at least half of all purchases made in 2015.

Public examination of the dissertation
Lecture Hall E, main building of the Aalto University School of Engineering, Otakaari 1, Espoo
The opponent is Professor Harri Kalimo from the Institute for European Studies, Belgium.

Doctoral dissertation

Public procurement 

For more information:
Katriina Alhola, Research Scientist, Finnish Environment Institute, 
tel. +358 40 531 4857,

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