Public procurement makes up 18% of GDP in the European Union, and several member states are now using their purchasing power to support the market for green and socially responsible products, works and services.
Current EU legislation from 2004 limits selection criteria to direct environmental and social impacts, but excludes characteristics of the production process that do not impact on product quality.
Existing legislation is also only relevant for larger scale purchases, but it does appear to influence independently developed national polices for smaller purchases.
The European Commission has over the past few years been constructive in developing green public procurement guidance for specific products, including sustainable forest management as an award criterion where relevant.
On the other hand, it has also challenged specific public procurement practices when it felt it was contrary to EU law, one example being a Dutch local authority that wanted only Max Havelaar or EKO coffee to be offered in its buildings.
This case is pending and the outcome will be relevant for FSC, regarding the extent to which social criteria can be related to production processes.
The positive position drafted by the Attorney General of the European Court in mid-December is, however, encouraging.
The new proposals have one major new characteristic not contained in existing legislation – it will no longer be restricted to ensuring open and transparent procedures in the EU alone: Public procurement is now also seen as a tool to promote ‘Europe 2020’ (the overarching economic agenda of the EU), to achieve ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive economic growth’.
This means that public authorities are allowed, within limits, to use their money to promote environmental and social innovation and sustainability.
In this way, public procurement will receive official recognition as a vehicle to promote sustainable development.
But the legislation still needs fine-tuning to ensure that labels and certificates are allowed that cover wider environmental and social issues.
It must prevent green-washing and limit unhelpful restrictions that could undermine green public procurement policies already in place in some countries that, for example, recognize FSC certification as evidence of sustainably sourced wood based products.
It is important that EU countries and members of the European Parliament receive feedback from businesses, organizations and individuals to ensure that public authorities maximize their purchasing power to promote sustainable production, and that legislation has to be improved, not restricted for this purpose.
FSC certification already provides a credible, transparent and effective tool for promoting sustainable forest management and chain of custody, meaning that public authorities do not have to develop their own standards.
The draft legislation will go through the ordinary legislative procedures in 2012, which should lead to agreement on a final text by the end of this year or in 2013.
For further information, contact: John Hontelez, Chief Advocacy Officer FSC, j.hontelez at fsc point org