Three hundred million euros worth of products procured circularly by companies and government agencies
Bamboo road signs, bicycle bridges made from geopolymer concrete, reducing the number of lamp posts by placing them further apart, a municipality that purchases lockers that have no rear side. These are only a few examples to illustrate how in the past three years, the Netherlands has silently become the front runner within Western Europe in an area of sustainable business that was mostly ignored before: the green and sustainable impact of the purchasing officer in private and public organisations.
“If the purchasing officer starts to set different requirements for his supplier, for instance that products are made from reusable materials, this changes the dynamics”, says Joan Prummel of Rijkswaterstaat. The Dutch government started the GDCP project in 2013, together with MVO Nederland, consultants from Kirkman Company, Nevi purchasing organisation, Circle Economy Amsterdam, and the Procurement Expertise Centre PIANOo.
Three years after changing their procurement methods, the GDCP project participants together represented a procurement value of a hundred million euro. In 2018 the project was restructured and continued under the name of GDCP 2.0. The latter project is being closed today and has resulted in circular procurement projects worth three hundred million euros. The initiators are delighted with this result. They have also supported initiatives in Belgium, France, Portugal, and Finland to set up similar projects. “With regard to the green role that purchasing officers can assume within their organisation, we now play a leading role in Europe”, according to Prummel.
The Dutch parties involved in the project are varied: from ABN Amro and Landal Greenparks to Alliander, construction company TBI and the municipalities of Rotterdam and Wageningen, as well as four provinces, to name only a few. Each participant committed itself to start at least two circular procurement projects. The purchasing officers started to focus on new issues: Did they use toxic substances or child labour in the production of this product? Can the parts be separated for reuse? Are the materials actually being reused?
Some interesting projects have seen the light in the course of this project. Such as the renovation of the head office of network operator Alliander, where 81 percent of the demolition materials was reused in the construction of the new building. Or the municipality of Wageningen, which has become a circular procurement pioneer within the public sector with such projects as a bicycle bridge partly made from geopolymer concrete instead of traditional concrete, a circular sports centre, and lockers at the city hall without the superfluous rear side.
“Sometimes change meets resistance”, says Cynthia van der Roest, who is purchasing advisor for the municipality of Wageningen. “For instance, when we put out a tender for lighting, we received a proposal using LED lamps. The lamps were cast in plastic and could not be disassembled at the end of their service life. When we pointed this out, their reaction basically amounted to ‘you have no idea what you are doing’. When they see our terms, suppliers often say they are impossible to comply with. That is why market consultations are very important. They allow you to determine beforehand how far you can push the envelope. If suppliers do not want to or are not able to comply with the circular requirements, they probably won’t participate in the tender.”
Surrounding towns that want to get started with circular procurement are now approaching the municipality of Wageningen for advice. “We receive information requests from Dutch and foreign parties, and some just get started without actually joining us,” Joan Prummel of Rijkswaterstaat observes. “The objective of this project was to discover how procurement contributes to the acceleration of the circular economy, and we have indeed learned a lot. We have started a silent revolution and set in motion an irreversible trend. And as a bonus, the purchasing department, which many regarded as a boring part of the organisation, has become a lot sexier!”
In the Green Deal Circular Procurement public and private parties pool their know-how and experience to accelerate the circular economy by means of their procurement policies. This is an initiative from MVO Nederland, Nevi, Rijkswaterstaat and PIANOo.
Photo by GDCI - Buro Dertig