Public Procurement for Sustainable Development: A Framework for the Public Sector
Globalized emergencies such as climate breakdown and the COVID-19 pandemic make procurement for sustainable development essential to building more resilient, sustainable and just societies.
Discussion of sustainable procurement tends to emphasize ‘impact mitigation’ and ‘reduction of negative impacts’ as policy priorities, but these ideas send the wrong message. This paper shifts the narrative away from the pursuit of damage mitigation and towards the promotion of equities for sustainable development.
The paper proposes a revised definition of sustainable procurement, so that goods, services, works and utilities are procured in a way that achieves value for money on a life-cycle basis, while addressing equity principles for sustainable development to the benefit of societies and the environment across time and geographies.
- Public procurement constitutes the world’s largest single marketplace, having a value of some $13 trillion per year, half of which is spent by countries of the Global South. In response to global emergencies such as climate breakdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are embarking on a period of unparalleled demand for action and public expenditure. Robust principles of sustainability and development need to be at the heart of this. Many international organizations, business and think-tanks have called for ‘impact mitigation’ and ‘reduction of negative impacts’ in sustainable public procurement (SPP), but these ideas send the wrong message.
- This paper proposes a revised definition of sustainable procurement. It reads: ‘Sustainable procurement is a process whereby organizations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a life-cycle basis while addressing equity principles for sustainable development, therefore benefiting societies and the environment across time and geographies.’ This concept shifts the narrative away from the pursuit of damage mitigation and towards the promotion of equities for sustainable development.
- The paper encourages the observation of 10 standards for public procurement for sustainable development. Economic facilities, social opportunities, protective security, political freedoms and transparency guarantees are some of the ‘development blocks’ that can underpin a state strategy. Intragenerational, intergenerational, interspecies, procedural and geographical equity are some of the ‘sustainability pillars’ that can be mobilized in procurement policies and practices.
- Papua New Guinea, Ecuador and Brazil have all developed strategies to provide economic facilities to selected industries, while also addressing some of the sustainability pillars: for example, adopting environmental standards and giving preference to smaller and local suppliers, women-owned businesses and peasant family farmers. Papua New Guinea’s Vision 2050 and Ecuador’s Buen Vivir plan have also addressed social opportunities and intergenerational equity, and Brazil’s Food Acquisition Programme has addressed protective security and geographical equity.
- Sustainable procurement should be enshrined in legislation, with secondary legislation being regularly updated by (or in consultation with) a permanent taskforce. This taskforce should actively engage with diverse groups and businesses. SPP is an issue that is better dealt with by multidisciplinary teams that have expertise in development economics, design engineering, and environmental and social policy, for example.
- Harnessing purchasing power for sustainable development should be given serious consideration in policy integration strategies and in negotiations on trade, development, human security and the environment. Augmented and globalized health crises, recessions, environmental and climate breakdown – and their uneven and long-lasting consequences – make procurement for sustainable development essential to building more resilient, sustainable and just societies. Put simply, unless we as an international community reform public procurement, we will not meet sustainable development objectives.