Sustainable public procurement

Palm oil processing plant © Bremen Young for RSPO
Palm oil processing plant © Bremen Young for RSPO
What governments choose to buy has the capacity to transform markets. ISEAL has a major programme of work dedicated to strengthening the use of credible standards in public procurement globally by bridging the gaps between procurers and standards systems.

ISEAL is building awareness of standards and certification among procurement officials and developing tools to simplify and streamline the use of sustainability standards in public procurement.

Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP) is a critical opportunity for increasing uptake because governments are beginning to incorporate sustainability considerations into their buying practices, moving beyond a narrow focus on purchase price. For standards, constructive engagement on SPP is important not only because of its size in the global economy, but also because of the positive changes that government leadership can stimulate in the market.

Improving clarity and consistency

To make SPP operational, public procurers depend on ways to translate government mandates into clear purchasing criteria and verification procedures. Credible standards can fill this demand with their transparent and rigorous systems. In practice, however, applying standards can be challenging due to limited government knowledge of how standards systems function and incompatibilities between the design of standards and the needs of procurers.

ISEAL is focused on making it clearer how standards can be effectively used in SPP. Through our global consultation on the Credibility Principles, we have been raising awareness among procurement officials and starting a multi-stakeholder dialogue on good practices. Buying for Tomorrow, a report commissioned by ISEAL on the state of global SPP with respect to sustainability standards, points to the importance of building knowledge and developing specialised tools to facilitate the alignment of standards and SPP.

Developing Guidance

Governments require context-specific guidance that corresponds to the technical nature of the procurement process. Along with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), ISEAL has convened a working group of standards systems, national and local governments, researchers and procurement experts that will develop a training module for public procurers covering all aspects of how standards can be used. Ultimately ISEAL would like to build of a customised toolbox of resources that can facilitate the effective and informed use of credible standards in SPP.

ISEAL has used the revision of the EU Public Procurement Directives to recommend stronger legislation that refers to standards in areas such as award criteria. Our aim is to raise confidence in the procurement community that sustainability standards can be recognised without fear of legal challenge.

Focus on emerging economies

Our work on SPP is closely connected to our efforts in emerging economies, where we support the growth of sustainable domestic value chains and trade in sustainable products.  SPP is a useful entry point to build dialogue with emerging economy leaders and demonstrate the value of standards in supporting the growth of sustainable value chains, as well in meeting domestic challenges. Since Brazil, India and China are at different levels of commitment to SPP, we are using different strategies to build the case for standards.

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