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Making procurement greener and more sustainable: working on new guidance for global governments

With COP26 over, there has never been more interest in sustainability across the world — but there has probably also never been more frustration given all the lofty talk and little concrete action. 

With commitments across coal phase-down, deforestation, methane, finance and a wide range of other areas and sectors, countries will now need to translate this impetus into real delivery.

This is where public procurement comes in. It is how your government goes shopping, spending your tax dollars on goods, works and services. It will determine how the trillions of dollars that are going to be invested in green projects and sustainability are spent.

So now is the perfect time to be working with governments globally to design new approaches and guidance for greener and more sustainable public procurement. This could be the hidden catalyst for global sustainability.

While COP26 focused on climate change, ‘sustainability’ in procurement can refer to a number of different policy areas and priorities. Buying green and ensuring a more sustainable and greener supply chain is key, but sustainable procurement also needs to support inclusive and equal economic growth, long-term skills and capacity building, and innovation — all of which will be crucial to ensuring a fair and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, long after the buzz around COP26 fades.. 

It will require governments to rethink the way that they engage the market and to take risks to promote innovation and newer technologies. This can be pretty challenging in the sometimes risk-averse, box-ticking world of procurement. 

There are already some guides and toolkits to help public buyers.

The EU has a buying guide for taking account of social value in procurement, as well as specific guidance for green procurement; the World Bank has just launched its new guidance on green public procurement, including global case studies and best practices; and while the UNDP and UNIDO also have widely used social value frameworks. And we have explored how open data can throw light on effective sustainable procurement and government spending

There have also been some startling headline commitments including across the entire European Union Resilience and Recovery Facility. 

Yet, day-to-day practices aren’t yet changing. It’s an afterthought and not a default. So what are the institutional blocks and barriers to wider uptake? How can we move public buyers to bake sustainability and inclusion into public purchasing from the start? And what information and data do they need to plan, tender, award and deliver truly sustainable public purchasing? 

That is why we are delighted that the Open Contracting Partnership and PUBLIC are going to team up to diagnose and explore the barriers to wider adoption, with the support of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. 

We will explore the information people need, when and how they need it to buy more sustainably, as well as identifying some easy wins or nudges that can make a big difference. We will particularly focus on developing country users and stakeholders to see what can help them. We aim to produce guidance that goes beyond frameworks and strategies, down to the level of concrete, practical tools and steps. This will consider how e-procurement systems can be used to drive more sustainable procurement behaviour, but also how we can capture, share and publish sustainability data in an open and transparent way. 

This includes understanding how sustainability fits into their other considerations, priorities and processes, and identifying the existing blockers or limitations they face when implementing sustainable procurement approaches, as well as how similar initiatives have failed or succeeded in the past. We’re keen to frame sustainability benchmarks in a more meaningful and useful way at the point of planning any new purchase.

Simply put, we want to make sure that we co-design something that meets real, concrete user needs. PUBLIC’s deep experience with user research and service design projects, coupled with their expertise in procurement processes, systems and technology, will help to ensure we keep this focus throughout the project. 

Over the next few months, we will be engaging with a wide range of users across multiple countries to shape a new set of resources for more sustainable procurement. We’ll make sure to share updates and insights on what we create along the way. 

If you are interested in sustainable procurement, and would like to share your insights, thoughts or case studies, please get in touch at johnny@public.io or ckluttz@open-contracting.org

We would love to hear from you!