Written by Paula Land from ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.
This text was originally published on Sustainable Procurement Platform.
10 million tonnes of furniture are discarded by businesses and consumers in EU Member States each year, the majority of which is destined for either landfill or incineration, finds a report published by the European Environmental Bureau. The report calls on policy makers and officials to focus more efforts on higher-value circular resource flows, such as refurbishment or remanufacturing.
As part of the European project CircularPP, Procura+ Chair city of Malmö is taking action on this issue. The city is looking to award a new framework contract to one or multiple suppliers of used furniture, minimizing the material footprint of its office furniture and contributing to the transition to a circular economy. The CircularPP project is using innovation procurement and capacity building to promote a circular economy.
We spoke to Emma Borjesson, who works at the Environmental Management Department of Malmö City, about the city’s ambitions to become more circular and how this new tender will help with that.
When we found out about the CircularPP project, we decided that we should participate, but we were not sure what kind of procurement we could make circular. It then turned out that the framework contract for our office furniture supplier was about to be re-awarded. The person responsible for this tender process was interested in doing something more environmental and had already started to look into reused furniture as an option.
Therefore, we eventually decided that furniture, and reused furniture specifically is the right way to start because it is quite straight forward but nonetheless a highly necessary product category to address.
When the city officials first started looking into the issue they quickly realized the scale of the problem – not least because they discovered a large container full of dumped furniture just behind their offices. Both production and disposal of office furniture require large amounts of resources and energy – stress on the environment that could be avoided through buying used furniture and keeping it in the loop longer. ´
We already have an internal second hand market, where colleagues can offer used office furniture online and colleagues from other departments can use them in their offices. With the new framework contract, we hope to create more awareness about this internal service as well.
To prepare the tender, city officials have already begun to do some market research and have visited multiple suppliers of second hand furniture.
When we visited these suppliers, we realized just how much second furniture is available, and this fact only strengthened our belief that what we are doing as a city is really important and useful. The suppliers we visited were very happy to speak to us and hear about the city’s ambitions in this regard. From what we know until now, we will not have any issues finding suppliers that meet our requirements.
The requirements included in the tender go beyond providing used furniture. The new contractor is also expected to offer services such as repair or refurbishment in collaboration with the city’s internal works and repairs service, as well as short term rental of furniture if needed. This will ensure that furniture used by the city will stay in the loop longer. When eventually the furniture needs to be disposed of, the city has the ambition to ensure it gets refurbished, or at least recycled. This can be achieved through supplier take or buy back schemes to reuse spare parts or redesign the furniture. Alternatively, furniture user can also hire 3rd parties to take care of recycling.
It is crucial for us to have our colleagues on board. This will be a framework contract, which is why of course we cannot force our different procurers to make use of it. Ideally though we want all procurers of the different departments, when furniture needs to be purchased, to check our internal options like the second hand market first. In case they cannot find what they need, they would turn to the new supplier and purchase used or refurbished furniture. This is why we are planning such an extensive internal marketing campaign around it, to show that there are better ways than make, buy, replace out there!
We are organising a couple of information events on the circular economy, some of which have already taken place. Our colleagues are keen to learn more about this topic and it helps us to raise awareness. And at the end of the day, used furniture is not only more environmentally conscious but also cheaper. This factor will convince the doubtful ones as well.
We have the ambition to work with our interior designers and architects to familiarize them with this idea and to get them on board in terms of designing solutions that suit this new approach.
The call for tender is intentionally designed to be quite open – the city does not want to exclude good submissions, just as long as they fit into the set of requirements. This way the city maintains the option to award a contract to multiple suppliers.
The city views this tender as a pilot and envisions that it will embed circularity in more tenders in the future. A couple of topics that the city would like to address include the procurement of textiles, the construction sector, as well as food and catering.
During this tender process we are already learning a lot on how to cooperate better with our suppliers – something which is key when comes to asking the market to provide solutions that are more outside the box. We are asking quite a lot and are also working with new suppliers that have not been suppliers for cities before.
A challenge the city of Malmö, and many other public bodies looking to purchase used goods, are legacy substances that could potentially be hazardous. Making sure that second hand products are safe to use means additional costs for recyclers who often lack information on chemicals contained in products and on ways on how to deal with them appropriately.
The city of Malmö published the call for tender mid-November. The city is confident it will award a contract by January or February 2019. We will be following the process and report back once the contract is awarded.