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Implementing Open and Sustainable Public Procurement: a new toolkit

If we want to tackle the climate crisis, and if we want to have greener, cleaner and more resilient supply chains, governments will need to buy things in a fundamentally different way. 

It’s not a choice – whether it’s building back to recover from the impact of hurricanes and floods, or putting infrastructure in place to prevent disasters.  

Done better, and openly, public procurement could be a hidden lever; done poorly, or left unchanged, it will be a brake on environmental progress and leave the most vulnerable communities behind. 

Public procurement is a US$13 trillion marketplace. The Boston Consulting Group and World Economic Forum estimate that what governments buy in public services, goods and public works is responsible for 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions each year: that is seven times as much as the entire aviation industry. 

With public procurement representing such a significant part of the global economy, it is one of the most important drivers in our global effort to make the world a greener, fairer and more sustainable place.

Doing so means a huge shift in the way procurement is done. It means moving beyond lowest cost to promote innovation and sustainability. When talking to more than 30 procurement experts and country partners, the question we kept hearing was how to make that shift. 

We believe that open contracting approaches can power up sustainable procurement practices to ensure sustainable development. For us, Open and Sustainable Public Procurement means being open about decision-making and prioritization processes; disclosing sustainability criteria for suppliers; creating open registers, contract databases and reporting mechanisms; offering clear channels for user and citizen feedback; reporting impact; and using that data to improve your practices. 

Most governments are only just embarking on their journeys toward buying sustainably. It can be daunting to know where to start: How do you incorporate product lifecycle costs? How do you buy goods like produce more locally and sustainably? How can you calculate carbon emissions and source more sustainable building materials for infrastructure projects?

Lithuania shows that it can be done. The Ministry of Environment, in charge of implementing the country’s green procurement policy, started the process by defining what green procurement is, before detailing specific intermediate targets with the goal of making 100% of procurement green by 2023. They prioritized specific sectors, such as transportation and food, and they’ve been providing assistance to buyers through a Sustainable Procurement Competence Center. Since last year, data about green specifications has been captured through digital forms. 

While Lithuania’s effort is ambitious, our new toolkit provides guidance for different levels of maturity and possibility, taking into account factors like capacity and data quality. We hope that this will be useful for partners in various contexts, such as Uganda and Paraguay. Uganda’s procurement agency PPDA is updating their legislation as well as beginning to integrate environmental safeguards into bidding documents. Paraguay has been working to increase the number of products and services that are purchased under green procurement, and measure the impact on the environment, leveraging their work on open contracting data.

Our new guide provides public procurement reformers and practitioners with practical insights for their day-to-day needs. Building on existing resources and publications, emerging best practices, and expertise from over 30 experts, we walk you step-by-step through how to get started and what to keep in mind, whether or not you already have practices and policies in place. The toolkit is structured to follow the process of an implementation journey, from the first steps that should be taken at an institutional level, to what should be considered when implementing open and sustainable procurement in specific sectors. We have handy checklists and a spreadsheet of sample indicators. And we developed a number of worked examples to add concrete data and performance goals to your procurement plans. 

Sustainability will be a key topic for us going forward. We continue to work directly with governments like Lithuania to change what and how they buy. We have heard the need for more guidance and support in helping our partners think through implementing smarter, open and data-driven reforms. The toolkit will be one of our key tools in this larger program and we hope that will become a place to orient yourself and kick things off now. 

Rethinking public procurement can be daunting. But it can be done – and it can’t wait. 

This Open and Sustainable Public Procurement toolkit has been co-designed by the Open Contracting Partnership, an independent non-profit working in over 50 countries to open up and transform the whole process of public procurement by making it more user-friendly, data-driven and inclusive; Spend Network, a global leader in open contracting and procurement data analysis; and PUBLIC, a leading government-focused technology company. The toolkit development is supported by the German Development Cooperation implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

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