2 May 2023

Cities use public procurement to advance circular transition

The recently published Circular Cities Declaration (CCD) Report 2022 highlights the great steps cities across Europe are taking to support the transition to a circular economy. Among the identified trends is the increased use of public procurement as a lever to reduce their environmental footprint and enable the take-off of circular solutions and services.

In Europe, public buyers spend 14% of the EU’s GDP, which means that there is a great potential for public authorities to have positive circular, social and environmental impact with their purchases of goods, works and services. The CCD report shows that cities increasingly recognise this potential. With 18 documented actions in the report public procurement is, behind circular infrastructure, the second most represented policy lever, used across many different sectors.

A good example are Haarlem’s (The Netherlands) ambitious circular procurement objectives. The city aims for 50% of its purchases to be circular by 2025, and has a target of 100% by 2030. These targets don’t stand on their own; in its circular economy action plan Haarlem Circulair 2040, the city has identified circular procurement as a key tool for implementing the circular economy and has made its circular objectives but are a central feature of its strategic procurement policy. The policy was derived partly from the Roadmap for Circular Procurement and Commissioning, acknowledging that commissioning plays a major role in achieving circular procurement goals.

Other examples in the report show how cities have been adopting and developing circular economy strategies, setting goals for local purchasing, circularity and socially responsible public procurement for tenders. These strategies are often aligned with international or national frameworks, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and allow interventions in many different sectors. Torres Vedras (Portugal) has for example implemented circular practices in its purchasing of school meals, while Helsinki (Finland) used circular principles for finding the best technical solution to renovate one of its main streets. Copenhagen (Denmark) is working on textile public procurement to stimulate demand for the output from the city’s own textile recycling efforts.

All these examples show that circular public procurement is about more than just reducing the social and environmental impacts of purchases. It also allows local governments to further stimulate the design, provision and management of more circular goods and services. To further pursue these possibilities, the adoption of supporting regulation at national and European levels, along with the provision of guidance, to local governments is necessary.

To read more about the circular (public procurement) activities of Europe’s cities, download the CCD report here.Throughout 2022, CCD signatories have been submitting individual reports sharing their key activities and interventions in the field of circular economy, and the challenges they have experienced. In total 40 reports were submitted, covering activities from 2021 and 2022. ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, with support from Ellen MacArthur Foundation, led a comprehensive analysis of these submissions, with the CCD report as a result. The two organisations note that this is the widest ever assessment of circular economy practices across European cities.