Local green purchasing under the spotlight

Authorities from around Europe meet in Bilbao to discuss experience, prospects

Environmental consultants, representatives of regulatory bodies and local authority delegates from 21 countries met last week at a conference held in Bilbao, Spain, to discuss how local authority purchasing/procurement policies could be greened.

Joint organisers of EcoProcura Europa '99, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) and the Spanish Federation of Town and Regional Councils (FEMP), stated that the event's main aim was "to make politicians and administrators responsible for local authority spending more aware of the opportunities for directing the hundreds of billions of euros in their annual budgets into protecting the environment".

More local authorities, particularly in northern Europe, are now taking on board problems of environment and health. Over 2000 regions, towns and villages have adopted Agenda 21 sustainable development action plans. The conference heard from analysts Caroline Roy and Patricia Ravet-Sordoillet that French local authorities for example are increasingly implementing voluntary environmental management systems which contain stringent environmental criteria for purchasing goods and awarding public service contracts.

Jørgen Lund Madsen of the Copenhagen City Environmental Protection Agency and chair of the European Municipal Green Purchasing Network stressed that "training and awareness-raising are key to promoting green purchasing". However many local authority purchasers still believe that economic imperatives and environmental priorities are incompatible, resulting in public-procurement decisions based solely on short-term economic advantage.

Auke Haagsma of the European Commission addressed the issue, explaining how environmental criteria can be included when drawing up invitations for bids for the supply of public goods or services. He stressed that when purchasers are evaluating a bid they are allowed under EU rules to calculate costs over the life-cycle of a product thus selecting the most environmentally appropriate alternative.

The choice of Bilbao as host city of this year's conference reflected the organisers' wish to promote the issue of green purchasing in southern Europe, according to Laura Buguñá of ICLEI. "Green purchasing is something quite new in Spain, and southern Europe in general lags behind other countries in awareness about this issue," she said. Attendance by representatives of Spanish local authorities was lower than organisers had hoped. But Luis Enrique Mecati of FEMP explained that this had "more to do with the forthcoming municipal elections" than with a lack of interest in developing environmentally-sound policies.

Follow Up:
ICLEI, tel: +49 761 368 9220; FEMP, tel: +34 91 364 3700; European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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