• Date: May 2014

One of our partners, Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP), has ample experience in promoting Sustainable Public Procurement internationally. Below is an account of a major Switch-Asia project in China that they were involved in.

Leveraging Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP) experiences in China

In the past 10 years many Asian countries have been able to put their economies on a growth path. This development allowed major achievements in terms of fighting poverty, ensuring improved livelihoods, enhancingaccess to basic social services or addressing other major societal challenges. However, growing industrialisation in Asia has also increased levels of negative environmental and social impacts in many Asian countries. These impacts become especially visible in urban areas where air pollution and smog take their toll, and working conditions often are characterized by low standards.As a result from environmental and social challenges policy makers in Asia pay increased attention to questions of sustainable consumption and production.

SPP to reduce negative environmental and social impacts

SPP can contribute as a policy tool to solve environmental and social challenges by reducing negative impacts of public demand. As Governments all over the world consume large amounts of goods and services, changing procurement practices of public institutions has huge potentials to raise public awareness and provide incentives for suppliers to incorporate environmental protection and social improvements into their production processes. This means GPP can promote green consumption and push industries towards cleaner production, social innovations and improved working conditions. In order to achieve these positive impacts it is crucial to have the right mix of actors to guarantee necessary support and skills, incorporate a broad pool of experiences and mutual learning, tailor country specific strategies and ensure sufficient capacity building for implementation. This is the learning of a project implemented by the Collaborating Centre on Consumption and Production (CSCP) and its international and regional project partners in three target cities in China.From 2009 to 2011, the SuPP-Urb (Sustainable Public Procurement in Urban Administrations in China) project introduced public procurement practices in the cities of Lanzhou, Qinhuangdao and Tianjin.

SPP implementation in urban China

The SPP in urban China project was carried out in four phases. The first phase of the project was dedicated to building the necessary capacity of all actors involved. A number of background studies have been prepared on SPP in China and Europe, product-labelling practices, the role of social criteria for SPP and general principles. Building on these studies and the experience of the project partners, the second phase included trainings and testing of SPP tools such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Life Cycle Costing (LCC) and institutional analysis of regulatory frameworks. The main focus of these activities was on local governmentsthat carry out 90% of government procurement in China.Collaboration with three local Public Procurement Centres (PPC) and scientific institutions in all target regions was key to trainings and testing as their insights allow trainings to be successfully adjusted to local conditions. All PPCs started with the implementation of new tools, procedures and practices in the third phase of the project.Activities and impacts were monitored and deliverables discussed among all project partners at a joint conference.  The last project phase successfully provided for dissemination of projects results to all stakeholder and other cities and regions in China.

Measuring achievements and impacts

A central task for all project activities is impact assessment. Underthe SuPP-Urb project direct and indirect impacts were evaluated. Impact assessments proved direct impacts of the project in terms of energy, water, CO2-emission and oil savings. The changes in procurement practices of the three PPCs led, for instance,to CO2 reductions of 105,749 tonnes, reduced waste by 34,418 tonnes and saved 14,008 tonnes of oil and 39,269 cubic meter of water over the whole implementation period of the project. Indirect impactsmainly result from increased environmental and social awareness of producers and consumers or uptake of project learnings by other actors, who have not been directly involved. This for example can trigger increased levels of sustainable innovations of producers elsewhere or change purchasing behaviour of private consumers.The SuPP-Urb project used qualitative indicators to prove indirect project impacts. It was revealed that suppliers and users in the three target cities of the project were influenced in their strategizing by shifts towards SPP. Additionally higher levels of environmental awareness were reported.Next to directly targeted actors, procurement officers, provincial level officials and numerous potential suppliers from other cities and regions in China attended project events, and results were spread through the national network of the PPCs.Finally the project results were taken to the National SPP Evaluation programme, which aims at evaluating the current policies, their implementation and formulating the next five year national SPP Plan in China.

Lessons learned and conclusions

The SuPP-Urbproject showed that it is possible to achieve good and tangible results by intervening into the public procurement circle and making it more sustainable through active engagement of local stakeholder. Some central framework conditions have been of essential importance for the success of the project. First, it needs the involvement of the right mix of actors. In the case of the SuPP-Urb these actors were the PPCs of the three target cities, local environmental protection bureaus as well as local scientific partners. Second, institutional and legal aspects for the public procurement process and country-specific differences need special attention. The experience in China disclosed that cross-linking of experiences and mutual learning between Chinese and European partners were important elements. However, many experiences and practices were not easy to transfer, although they bear large potentials for adaptation that need to be tapped.  Third, centralisation of public procurement at city level proved very effective and fruitful. Forth, an effective capacity building for local authorities on aspects such as life-cycle costing methodologies is crucial to tap potentials of public procurement as a tool to increase the demand for more environmentally friendly and socially advantageous goods and services and to facilitate green economic transformation.

Further information on the SuPP-Urb Project and a more detailed project report can be found here


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