Sustainable purchasing in Europe to be boosted

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



(2004), "Sustainable purchasing in Europe to be boosted", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 5 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Sustainable purchasing in Europe to be boosted

European local authority associations have welcomed a recent agreement between the European Parliament and EU Council of Ministers finalizing two directives governing sustainable public procurement contracts in the EU. The new laws could open the door to a significant increase in green purchasing of anything from office equipment to public transport vehicles to food.

The directives simplify and modernize EU rules governing some 1.4bn worth of public contracts granted annually, equivalent to 14 per cent of the bloc’s GDP. After two legislative readings EU governments and MEPs remained split principally over how far authorities can take social and environmental criteria into account in granting contracts.

In the end, the EU Parliament, which wanted greater scope for green purchasing, has emerged with a greater share of the spoils. Specifically, the directives take a lead from a landmark European court of justice ruling in 2002 that allowed for factors other than price to be taken into account by contracting authorities.

Criteria set in tender documents will have to be linked to the contract’s subject matter. But the laws will not require authorities to accept the cheapest tender received, as the council of ministers had wanted. In addition, contracting authorities will be able to take into account production methods in any technical specifications laid down for a contract.

European local authorities accept that the new directives may not necessarily spark a boom in sustainable purchasing. The four existing EU directives due to be replaced by the new legislation made no mention of the issue, but nor did they rule it out, and the European court in its 2002 “Helsinki bus” judgement ruled that environmental considerations could be taken into account in granting contracts.

The other obstacle is financial. “Greener” products and services often cost more, whereas local authorities face difficult financial constraints. However, experts believe that the new laws provide important extra clarity.

The challenge now will be to spread the message and encourage more authorities to set environmental conditions in contracts. It is estimated that around 20 per cent of public contracts in Europe already include “at least some environmental considerations”.

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