9 September 2020

Public procurers in the driving seat to a circular economy

The recent Baltic Circular Procurement Congress highlighted the leading role of public procurers in driving forward the movement towards circular economies.

Over the past three years, public authorities in Denmark, Sweden and Latvia have been piloting innovative new approaches to buying circular goods and services as part of the Circular PP project, funded by the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme. These pilot activities have pushed boundaries, and formed the heart of the Baltic Circular Procurement Congress (2-3 September), which gathered together 180 procurers, experts, and innovative businesses from across the world for two days of online exchange.
Renowned expert Walter Stahel, Founder and Director of the Product Life Institute and ‘founding father’ of the circular economy movement, opened the Congress with a clear call to action: “The importance of public procurement comes from the fact that in industrialised countries, approximately one third of GDP is directly influenced by public procurement and by public subsidies. Public procurement can thus pull the market into a desired direction… We the people – and that includes public procurement authorities – are the circular economy. We are in the driver seat to make it happen!”

Now is the right time for action. Emmanuelle Maire, Head of Unit for DG Environment at the European Commission, emphasised the importance of procurers in her address to the Congress: “We need you because public buyers have a key role to play in the transition to a circular economy and to fight climate change. Europe has a very ambitious and necessary goal to be climate neutral by 2050, and for this we have a Green Deal with a series of actions. A transition to a circular economy is very important to reach this goal.”

The importance of learning from others was a constant theme throughout the Congress, during which the City of Aalborg (Denmark), City of Malmö (Sweden) and Latvian Environmental Investment Fund shared concrete experience and results. For example, in just one year, the City of Malmö has saved 170,500kgs of CO2 (which equals 68 roundtrip flights to Thailand), as well as almost €600,000 by buying second-hand furniture for offices. 

As Congress organiser Emile Bruls, Circular Economy Adviser for Dutch Government Agency Rijkswaterstaat, remarked: “Only by practicing, cooperation and sharing insights can we make steps forward in circular procurement.”

The lessons learned from the Circular PP project have made into a short Lessons Learnt leaflet. The cities involved in Circular PP will also continue to collaborate internationally with other governments via ICLEI’s Procura+ Interest Group on Circular Procurement, which brings together 25 ambitions public sector buyers from 12 countries committed to accelerating the transition to a circular economy.