The road to Circular Public Procurement

Throughout its evolution, our industrial economy has never moved beyond one fundamental characteristic: A linear model of resource consumption that follows a take-make-dispose pattern.

The last 100 years we have been using raw materials like never before. This has led to the high developed world that is a fact for many of us in the western world today, but with big consequences for the environment and inhabitants, often in other parts of the world were we don’t see the effects of our linear system. Companies extract materials, apply energy and labor to manufacture a product and sell it to a consumer—who then discard it when it no longer serves its purpose.

A circular economy approach is an alternative to this model. It aims to keep products and materials in the value chain for a longer period and to recover raw materials after the lifetime of the products for their next use. But a circular economy approach is not easy – sometimes two steps forward, one-step back. To learn more about the different aspects in Circular Public Procurement, click on the different circles in the picture below:

Innovation

If a circular economy approach to public procurement is going to be successful, innovation is a key factor - innovating new products, fitting the new model. Innovation is also about the cooperation between municipalities and companies. A lot of companies wants to innovate, and work in more innovative ways. The municipalities can kick off the green change by giving the companies the opportunity to do so, by challenging them to create new circular products.

Enviroment

The burden on the environment is increasing; natural capital like forests, lakes and soil is being harmed and exhausted; biodiversity (the variety of plants and animals in the natural environment) is being damaged and lost; we are already facing serious shortages of raw materials and climate change. New ways of extracting, natural resources, renewable energy and thinking about how products are being produced and designed, should be sought.

Economy

It is about thinking economy in a new way, thinking of recycling material and reducing waste rather than money and shifting to more long-term budgets. Shifting to a long-term mindset, the concern should not be on what the product costs are right here and now, but more on the lifetime of the product. Short term, the expenses might be higher, but with a longer lifetime, the product will last longer, minimizing the burden on the environment and in the end saving money.

Knowledge

In order to innovate, changing the mindsets, and taking care of the environment in a circular way, new knowledge is needed on how to purchase. Most of us have knowledge about pollution, climate change and plastic in the seas and that we will run out of raw material in a few years. We know we have to take care of our environment and climate, but not on how to do it by procurement. Knowledge is about how to do circular procurement, learning and getting inspiration about new ways to procure circular products.

Mindset

Mindset is about behavior change, and it takes a lot of effort to change the behavior and mindset. How to change what we buy and produce, in a way where the lifetime and lifecycle of the product is important and to a higher price? If a change of mindset is going to be successful, it is important to communicate the whole story and the successes, in order to change the habits and the behavior. 

As the picture is illustrating, the way to Circular Public Procurement is not linear, with confusion and change being two key factors. Confusion, due to the project itself, being complexed and non-linear. Not two roads to a circular economy is similar – how to start, where to start and what to do?

Reasons or means behind getting involved can be different. It can be because of financial issues, or having the knowledge about circular economy, maybe worrying about the environment or thinking about innovative solutions. When involved, there is no starting point, and no preferred way. At the end of the road, change is important. There is a need to change economic structures, how we innovate and most importantly, mindsets and behavior change.

We need to think different. That a broken product, rather than throwing it out, can be just as good, as buying a new one. By looking for new solutions, and adopting this circular mindset – jumping from area to area due to the nonlinear way of circular public procurement, a new way of thinking public procurement can be reached.