Buying Green! A Handbook on Environmental Public Procurement

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Green procurement: the essentials

Green public procurement is a step-by-step process. Here are the steps.

  • Consider which products, services or works are the most suitable on the basis both of their environmental impact and of other factors, such
    as the information you have, what is on the market, the technologies available, costs and visibility (Chapter 1).
  • Identify your needs and express them appropriately. Choose a green title to communicate your policy to the outside world, ensuring optimum transparency for potential suppliers or service providers, and for the citizens you are serving (Chapter 2).
  • Draw up clear and precise technical specifi cations, using environmental factors where possible (pass/fail conditions) (Chapter 3):
  • look for examples of environmental characteristics in databases/eco-labels;
    • build upon the ‘best practices’ of other contracting authorities; use networking as a way of obtaining and spreading information;
    • take a scientifi cally sound ‘life-cycle costing approach’; do not shift environmental impacts from one stage of the life cycle to
    • use performance-based or functional specifi cations to encourage innovative green offers;
    • consider environmental performances, such as the use of raw materials, sustainable production methods (where relevant for the
      end product or service), energy effi ciency, renewable energies, emissions, waste, ‘recyclability’, dangerous chemicals, etc.;
    • if you are uncertain about the actual existence, price or quality of green products or services, ask for green variants.
  • Establish selection criteria on the basis of the exhaustive list of criteria mentioned in the public procurement directives. Where
    appropriate include environmental criteria to prove technical capacity to perform the contract. Tell potential suppliers, service providers or
    contractors that they can use environmental management schemes and declarations to prove compliance with the criteria (Chapter 4).
  • Establish award criteria: where the criteria of the ‘economically most advantageous tender’ is chosen, insert relevant environmental criteria
    either as a benchmark to compare green offers with each other (in the case where the technical specifi cations defi ne the contract as being green) or as a way of introducing an environmental element (in the case where the technical specifications defi ne the contract in a ‘neutral’
    way) and giving it a certain weighting. Consider the life-cycle costing (Chapter 5)!
  • Use contract performance clauses as a way of setting relevant extra environmental conditions in addition to the green contract. Where possible, insist on environment-friendly transport methods (Chapter 6).
  • Always make sure that everything you ask of potential bidders and their offers relates to the subject matter of the contract.


What is the connection between public purchasing and the environment?

Public authorities are major consumers in Europe, spending some 16 % of the EU’s Gross Domestic Product (which is a sum equivalent to half the GDP of Germany). By using their purchasing power to opt for goods and services that also respect the environment they can make an important contribution towards sustainable development. Green Public procurement covers areas such as the purchase of energy efficient computers and buildings, office equipment made of environmentally sustainable timber, recyclable paper, electric cars, environmental friendly public transport, organic food in cantines, electricity stemming from renewable energy sources, air conditioning systems complying with state of the art environmental solutions.

Green purchasing is also about setting an example and influencing the market-place. By promoting green procurement, public authorities can provide industry with real incentives for developing green technologies. In some product, works and service sectors the impact can be particularly significant, as public purchasers command a large share of the market (in computers, energy efficient buildings, public transport, and so on.).

Finally, if you consider life cycle costs of a contract, green public procurement allows you to save money and protect the environment at the same time. By purchasing wisely, you can save materials and energy, reduce waste and pollution, and encourage sustainable patterns of behaviour.

Potential environmental benefits

The European Commission has co-funded a research project – called RELIEF1- to scientifically assess the potential environmental benefits if green public procurement were to be widely adopted across the EU.

The findings concluded that:

  • If all public authorities across the EU demanded green electricity, this would save the equivalent of 60 million tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to 18% of the EU’s greenhouse gas reduction commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. Nearly the same saving could be achieved if public authorities opted for buildings of high environmental quality.
  • If all public authorities across the EU were to require more energy-efficient computers, and this led the whole market to move in that direction, this would result in 830.000 tonnes of CO2 savings.
  • If all European public authorities opted for efficient toilets and taps in their buildings, this would reduce water consumption by 200 million tonnes (equivalent to 0.6% of total household consumption in the EU). This handbook is designed to help public authorities launch a green purchasing policy successfully. It explains the possibilities offered by European Community law in a practical way, and looks at simple and effective solutions that can be used in public procurement

This handbook is designed to help public authorities launch a green purchasing policy successfully. It explains the possibilities offered by European Community law in a practical way, and looks at simple and effective solutions that can be used in public procurement procedures.

For practical reasons the Handbook follows the logic and structure of a procurement procedure. It also gives many practical examples of green purchasing by public authorities across the EU.

We have produced this handbook chiefly for public authorities, but we hope that it will also inspire corporate purchasers. It should also help suppliers, service providers and contractors - particularly the smaller companies - to understand and meet the environmental purchasing requirements imposed on them.

The handbook is available on the EUROPA website of the Commission on Green Public Procurement, which contains further practical information, useful links and contact information for contracting authorities who want to make their purchases greener (

Political and legal context

For many years, purchasing authorities did not really take account of the environmental value of goods, services or works.

However, the global economic and political background has changed, with the emergence of the concept of sustainable development - “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”- and the need to take environmental considerations into account in all other policies (alongside economic and social concerns).

Since its inclusion in the Treaty in 1997, sustainable development is recognised as an overarching goal of the EU. At Lisbon in 2000, EU leaders stated their objective of making the EU “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” by 2010. The Lisbon Strategy was supplemented by a third, environmental, pillar following the adoption of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy at the Gothenburg European Council in 2001.3 This Strategy marked a turning point. The aim was to promote economic growth and social cohesion while paying due regard to environmental protection. Conversely, it implies that environmental objectives will need to be weighed against their economic and social impacts so that ‘win-win’ solutions should as far as possible be devised for the economy, employment and environment. In 2002, the Council and European Parliament adopted the 6th Environment Action Programme,4 setting out the EU environmental roadmap for the next ten years and identifying four priority areas where action is urgently needed: climate change, nature and biodiversity, resource management, and environment and health.

The implementation of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy and the 6th EAP in the enlarged Union will be particularly challenging.

At the international level, the EU has played a leading role in developing and promoting key international environmental agreements and conventions. For example, in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in 2002, the EU committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 8 % in 2008-2012 (compared with 1990 levels).

Achieving sustainable development at all levels of governance cannot be established if there is no integration of the environmental dimension into all other policy areas, through the proper implementation of environmental policies by increasing the use of market-based instruments, and through information of the public with a view to foster the necessary behavioural changes.

At world wide level, Green Public Procurement is specifically mentioned in the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in December 2002, which encourages "relevant authorities at all levels to take sustainable development considerations into account in decision-making " and to "promote public procurement policies that encourage development and diffusion of environmentally sound goods and services”.

In the framework of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), OECD Member Countries agreed on a Council Recommendation “to improve the environmental performance of public procurement”. In its Interpretative Communication of 4 July 2001, the European Commission set out the possibilities offered by Community law to integrate environmental considerations into public procurement procedures. The Court of Justice further clarified those possibilities.

The public procurement directives adopted on 31 March 2004 consolidate and complement the legal context. They specifically mention in their recitals and provisions the possibilities for adopting environmental considerations in technical specifications selection and award criteria, and contract performance clauses.

Although the directives apply only to public procurement contracts whose estimated value is above certain thresholds (as mentioned in the directives), the Court of Justice has ruled that the EC Treaty principles of equal treatment and transparency, as well as the free movement of goods, the freedom of establishement and the freedom to provide services also apply to contracts under these thresholds.

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