The European Union Commission states that “Green public procurement means that public purchasers take account of environmental factors when buying products, services or works”. The concept is also called Green Buying of environmentally sustainable or friendly (green) products and services. Sometimes these products and services can have higher upfront costs but generally are more cost-effective over the long term, accounting for energy savings. Such practices have the additional value of often reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since most environmentally sustainable products do use less fossil fuels and emit lower levels of GHGs or are even carbon free. The movement toward green procurement grew out of Agenda 21, the comprehensive blueprint of action adopted by the UN at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June1992.
Implementing a Green Public Procurement (GPP) policy can be as simple as buying recycled paper and more efficient light bulbs, recycling waste or reducing water usage and thus saving on waste and water service charges. It can also get much more complicated when addressing purchases of transportation, energy and buildings.
Public agencies are often one of the largest purchasers of goods and services and so they often drive the market for the kinds of products and services private businesses are willing and able to supply. In Europe, public authorities spend some 16% of the European Union’s gross domestic product. 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.
An important side-effect is the development of a supply chain for environmentally sustainable products and services that can then cost-effectively feed private purchases. If the government demands an efficient product, someone will develop it and then look for sales of the same product in the private market.
Identifying what is and what is not an environmentally friendly or sustainable product or service is not always easy as there is a lot of misleading labeling in the market place (Note: see entry on “Green Washing” in the “iePEDIA”section of irish environment). A concerted and wide-spread green public procurement operation also can serve as leverage for suppliers to adopt a reasonable and transparent certification process to insure the products and services are truly environmentally sustainable, or face a government-imposed standard.
Some further ideas to explore on Green Public Procurement:
Assume the role of purchasing agent for your school, local government or regional authority, and devise a plan for going green in your procurement practices.
Pick a product and assess how that product could be more sustainable, and then determine how you can convince the manufacturer to make that product in a more sustainable way.
Pick a service and assess how that service could be more sustainable, and then determine how you can convince the provider to offer that service in a more sustainable way.
EU Green Public Procurement at ec.europa.eu/environment/gpp/index_en.htm
For a study of EU GPP implementation in several countries see:
UN on Agenda 21 and Sustainable Development at www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/
US EPA “Green Procurement” at