How to procure circular: Lessons from 30 pilot procurements

12 April 2023 - Published by Lisanne van ‘t Hoff
Are you a procurer and interested in learning more about how you can contribute to a circular economy? Read our new report that summarises the learnings from more than 30 circular procurement pilots and provides practical examples of how to address circular procurement for different sectors, incl. furniture, construction, waste, textiles and ICT.

How to procure circular: Lessons from 30 pilot procurements

Procurers and procuring organisations have a great potential to help accelerate a circular economy. In ProCirc we have supported more than 30 circular procurements leading to significant reductions in waste, CO2, and use of raw materials. Through interviews with the people involved in these pilots, we have gathered knowledge on the opportunities and barriers that exist for implementing circular procurements. 

In the report “How to procure circular: Lessons from 30 pilot procurements” we summarise the lessons learned in 5 main sectors: furniture, construction, waste, ICT and textiles. For each sector, we provide insights into the current circular options on the market, success factors when tendering, recommendations for how to prepare the internal organisations, as well as highlighted case studies for more information. 

The experiences from ProCirc shows great potential for further uptake of circular procurement practices. We have five main recommendations for procuring organisations to get started or scale up their work: 


#1 Dare to try: start, learn and adjust

In almost all product categories there is potential for reducing the impact on CO2, waste, virgin materials, and other environmental indicators by doing things differently. The market is constantly developing new solutions and sustainability factors are becoming a competitive advantage. Current procurement regulations already allow for inclusion of circular principles as part of the quality criteria. Pick a product category of interest and just try. You will learn from the process, you might need to adjust, and you will see impact.


#2 Find the balance: push the market and encourage development during the contract

Circular procurements require a market that is ready to deliver and a buyer that knows what to ask for. Start by clarifying your vision in market dialogues and in the tender documents. Once you show where you want to go, the supplier can help come up with innovative solutions for how to get there. Different types of criteria can stimulate continuous improvements, including growth trajectory approaches; collaborative development projects between buyer and supplier; and negotiated processes that facilitate the co-development of solutions together with suppliers.


#3 Create alignment: link the organisation’s goals to the procurement practices

A circular procurement reaches its full potential when the contract is used in the intended way. Different types of contracts need to be combined with different behavioural change approaches. These can either target the use of certain products or the approach for a standard procurement. Awareness raising within the organisation can include information on circularity vision and principles; checklists and decision support of when to buy new and how; and approaches to end-of-life and take-back systems. Impact at scale is only achieved when lessons learned in experiments are mainstreamed into practice. To do this, you need your whole organisation engaged.


#4 Appreciate innovation: dedicate sufficient time and resources to find new solutions

The best results will be achieved when there is room to be creative and enough time to find the right balance between ambition, capability of the market, and readiness within the own organisation. Several activities in a circular procurement process may require more time than business as usual. Time is needed to agree on requirements with internal stakeholders; during market engagement to understand the capacities of suppliers; and for the market to respond to the needs (e.g. longer lead times for used furniture since the sourcing process is longer). When the innovation process has started, the investment for each new procurement will reduce over time.


#5 Use existing knowledge: network, tools, and experience sharing

Experiments in circular economy procurements have been underway for several years now, and expertise is constantly growing. Find ways to use and build on this existing knowledge. Check what other organisations did in their procurements and how you can reuse that. Find and use suitable tools to guide you through the process. Use experts that help guide market dialogue and interpret responses into specific, evaluable criteria. Join networks and projects to continue to develop a specific sector and circular procurement in general.