Not only do companies have to help combat climate change, Administrations – central, regional and local – also play a relevant role in reducing CO emissions2 and the promotion of the green economy. How? Through the promotion of green public procurement. In Europe, state spending on works, goods and services is around 2.3 trillion euros per year (including that of public utilities). This amount represents 20% of the GDP of the European Union, according to data from the European Commission, and shows the enormous power they have as a lever for change and development of this market. In Spain, the figure is estimated at more than 6,000 million a year.

Brussels has set the standard for the Member States since 2001, first with the publication of several strategies that promoted and recommended the incorporation of a procurement policy respectful of the environment, the establishment of purchasing plans with environmental criteria and the use of eco-labels, among others, to promote sustainable production and consumption. And then, in 2014, with the approval of three directives on this matter, which replaced the one of 2004 and that the EU countries had to transpose into their national legislation no later than April 18, 2016. Even the EC published in 2005 a manual, Buying green, in constant review (the last, in 2016), to serve as a guide to the partners in its implementation.

Transport, cleaning, energy, urbanization and building, where it is most applied

After almost 20 years of a regulatory framework, new rules and guidelines, progress is uneven in both the EU and Spain. The latest report published by the European Executive reveals that only seven countries (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom) comply with these considerations to a greater extent. Although it is true that the inclusion of these criteria in the procurement documents is voluntary, which can influence this uneven progress, climate objectives have tightened in recent years and the European goal of carbon neutrality in 2050 obliges the institutions to get the batteries.

“A comprehensive approach to sustainable consumption is necessary. Go beyond the substitution of conventional products for ecological ones to make it a transforming tool of the socioeconomic model and a backbone of public policies ”, considers José Luis Fernández, researcher at Garúa. In other words, it is necessary to influence the decrease in consumption levels, change the underlying economic logic and promote education, research and inter-institutional cooperation, he adds.

Only the Basque Country stands out among the autonomous communities

In Spain, the municipal authorities are the ones that have taken the lead. The Barcelona City Council, mainly due to its long history (2001), points out from the Global Network of Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI, for its acronym in English), and a member of this platform. For example, in 2013 it approved a decree on responsible public procurement with social and environmental clauses, since 2015 these requirements are mandatory in 12 categories and in 2017 it expanded that list, especially for social aspects, they detail. And if there is an autonomous community to stand out for its extensive and rigorous journey, that is the Basque Country – they say -, also attached to the network.

“Spain is very behind. In 2005 it had to comply with an EU mandate because it allowed the use of the organic word in products without certification of organic farming. There has been a certain historical neglect and a lack of ambition ”, criticizes Fernández. Against this background, in 2019, the Government approved a new Ecological Public Procurement Plan, also voluntary and valid for seven years, until 2025.

Life cycle analysis and setting evaluation systems are the main challenges

This plan includes a group of 20 priority goods, works and services, according to EU criteria, to take into account: construction and management of buildings, construction and maintenance of roads, electricity supply, printing equipment and computers, products and cleaning services, air conditioning and transportation systems. “It is much more ambitious. It incorporates strategic issues that were previously left out, such as food or textiles, planned obsolescence, durability and repairability of products, and demand for environmental certificates from a more comprehensive point of view ”, analyzes Fernández.

Madrid and Valencia accelerate

The Madrid City Council and the Generalitat Valenciana are two other examples of greater ecological awareness and culture in public institutions. In the first case, its path begins in 2005 with the development of a code of good environmental practices, updated in 2011, indicates Ángel Rodrigo, director of contracting for the Madrid City Council. But the leap is made in the last legislature (Now Madrid, IU and Podemos), with the approval of the Air Quality and Climate Change Plan. And in 2018, for the first time, it awarded its electricity supply contract to two companies, Holaluz and Nexus, with renewable certification at source for more than 40 million. Since last September and until 2022 it falls to Iberdrola for a value of 45 million, he reports.

But the most important, cleaning, estimated at more than 2,000 million and which will be signed in 2021 for five or six years, introduces two new features after the approval in this legislature (PP) of its Madrid 360 strategy that “environmentalizes more” the Specifications: “It is going to give more marks to businessmen who respond in a differentiated way to the promotion of zero-emission technologies and the system of separation by waste fractions in the own removal and cleaning of the streets”, Rodrigo advances.

In 2018, the Madrid City Council awarded its electricity supply contract to two companies, Holaluz and Nexus, which guaranteed the origin of renewable sources

The council, which spends an average of 1,500 million on annual purchases, admits that in transport –where it is governed by the DGT labels–, building, urbanization, cleaning and energy, the criteria are met above 90%, but in Food, textiles and office supplies the percentage drops due to the complexity of their application as a life cycle analysis is necessary, one of the challenges. To advance in this sense, food is already introducing clauses that weigh organic or proximity production, he says.

“It is a citizen demand, this no longer has a political color, fortunately. But it has to be a gradual, sensible and evaluated process for it to make sense, ”he argues. The city council is working on preparing a catalog of goods and services so that all its contracting bodies have a clear reference on how to incorporate these criteria in all areas.

This year the European Commission selected the Generalitat Valenciana cleaning framework agreement as an example of good sustainable practices

And in the second case, the Generalitat Valenciana began to incorporate these criteria in 2012 after the creation by decree of the purchasing center, dependent on the Ministry of Finance and Economic Model, an accentuated policy – they affirm – since 2015 after the Botànic pact (PSPV, Compromís and Unides Podem). Proof of this is that the EC selected its framework cleaning agreement this year, estimated at 33.2 million for two years and one for an extension, as an example of good practices.

The technical specification requires the use of eco-labeled and undiluted concentrated products, forest paper with sustainable forest management seals, recycled or compostable plastic garbage bags and energy efficient vacuum cleaners. And the energy one, under tender and estimated at more than 169 million for one year, plus one for an extension, requires that 100% of the electricity supplied be of renewable origin. Building, postal services, transport (with an ecological label) and printing, digitization and copies are the other areas of action.

These measures have meant for the Genralitat an economic saving and in the consumption of energy, water, significant paper (without specifying data) and it works in the greater integration of the social, environmental and innovation requirements in its specifications.


For Rodrigo, there is a lack of evaluation mechanisms that analyze the impact of these clauses, as well as the need not to leave SMEs behind, with more difficulties to adapt. “We must try to keep the balance imposed by the community directive. We have to advance in the greening of the specifications without distorting, as far as possible, the market situation ”, he defends.

While José Magro, manager of sustainability and CSR at Aenor, believes that it is necessary to advance in clarity and, above all, in the training of evaluators. “In order to distinguish what is under the scope of a certificate or if it is issued by a recognized or accredited entity for it.”

Why use environmental criteria?


Benefits. From the European ICLEI platform, of which Navarra, Vitoria, Zaragoza and Gran Canaria are also part, they cite that they generate long-term financial savings when making purchases taking into account the life cycle of the product (from the acquisition of raw materials up to recycling), favor employment and local commerce, reduce emissions and promote innovation, market transformation and competitiveness ”. In addition, they favor state transparency, compliance with regulations and serve as a motivation and example for public and private companies.

Rules. Administrations are governed, in general, by the principles of the EU. But José Magro, from Aenor, warns that the requirements are increasingly specific. “As for companies, we have gone from generalist environmental management criteria, such as ISO 14001 or the European EMAS regulation (for the voluntary implementation of environmental management systems), to also include the calculation and verification of the carbon footprint. And with regard to products, there are more references related to the circular economy, such as eco-design, life cycle analysis or having the EU eco-label. Not forgetting the carbon footprint.

The German case. Environmental criteria in contracts and public tenders began to be incorporated in Germany in the 1990s and have been reformulated as the EU updated its directives. And its well-known eco-label Blue Angel, which today boast 120 different product groups and is reviewed every three or four years, has existed since 1978, according to sources from the German Embassy in Spain. “They help to achieve what is established by the EU and the federal government to lower CO emissions2, as well as other environmental objectives ”, comment these sources. And they say that the evaluation of environmental relevance versus value for money is usually laborious.

Philosophy of the Ecological Public Procurement Plan

The Ecological Public Procurement Plan seeks to promote by the public administration the acquisition of goods, works and services with the least possible environmental impact; serve as an instrument to promote the Spanish Circular Economy Strategy; support with concrete measures to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, while ensuring a more rational and economical use of public funds both from the point of view of investment and exploitation; and, among others, promoting the incorporation of environmental clauses in public procurement, highlighted by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenges (Miteco) and which are included in article three of the document.

In addition, a biennial monitoring of the plan is foreseen, that is, the publication of a report on the degree of compliance with said criteria in the contracts formalized by each agency. These results will be published on the Miteco website, they report. By its nature, they explain, its application will be greater in supply and works contracts.


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