Online Event – Beyond Buying: Towards Circular & Fair Trade Public Procurement in Municipalities

On the 14th of January, the FTAO and the municipality of Bremen hosted a hands-on online event aimed at exploring how public authorities can better procure within planetary boundaries by integrating Fair Trade, Circular Economy, as well as other social, environmental, and innovation concerns into their public procurement strategies and practices.

Public procurement is evolving into a strategic instrument aimed at fostering sustainable development and contributing to the creation and/or development of sustainable markets. The procurement department is becoming an ally of the social and environmental departments of public authorities, as well as a partner of sustainable and innovative businesses and suppliers.

In a moment where the massive use of raw materials is becoming more and more unsustainable, the Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO) and the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen joined forces to explore how public procurement can be further used as a policy instrument not only to promote the consumption of fairly-produced and fairly-traded products but also to promote the remake and reuse of products municipalities own and procure. 

The online event took place in the framework of the research ‘Beyond buying: Towards circular and Fair Trade public procurement’, which is funded by the project  “Bremen handelt fair lokal und global vernetzt”. The research aims to showcase the experience of front-runner procurers (Fair Trade Towns like Bremen, Malmoe, and Ghent, and two other municipalities committed to green and social public procurement, Aalborg (Denmark) and Ludwigsburg (Germany)) to combine fairness and circular considerations in their calls for tenders. The research will provide procurers and policymakers with a list of recommendations to boost the uptake of sustainable public procurement policies and strategies that include circular economy, Fair Trade, and other sustainability concerns. 

To optimise exchanges of views around these topics and take full advantage of shared knowledge, best practices and concrete proposals made by practitioners, participants with experience in Fair Trade and/or Circular Economy in public procurement were invited to join an interactive breakout session while participants less familiar with the subject could join an information session during which some findings of our research as well as practical steps towards fair and circular procurement were presented. 

The expert’s interactive session focused on two challenges that have been identified by the research as key for the implementation of circular and fair public procurement practices, namely:

  • Boosting market maturity to provide fair and circular products and services for public procurement,
  • Enhancing public authority staff readiness to implement fair trade and circular models.

Both topics were discussed through several axes related to policy, knowledge and information, as well as through more technical aspects.

The webinar was attended by participants from all over the world, ranging from European countries to South Africa. They agreed that a clear understanding of “circular and fair trade procurement” as well as the strengthening and promotion of convergence between social (fair) and circular (environmental) aspects are hereby critical issues. They also recalled the importance of a systemic approach.

In a cross-cutting manner, some main topics drove the discussions such as the role of mediators in long-term relationship management between public buyers and the private sector, market consultations, the use of business cases as incentives for a sustainable paradigm shift, as well as the need to reverse the current default option. The “lowest cost” option in public procurement should indeed become an exception rather than being the norm. Participants also highlighted that the externalisation of environmental costs often remains an obstacle to a broader engagement in circular economy.

Finally, another concern that has been raised is the need to ensure that the market offer for fair trade and circular products is sufficient both in terms of quantity and quality to meet the needs of public buyers. 

The conclusions will serve to provide concrete recommendations to procurers and policymakers on how to boost circular and fair public procurement. The latter will be presented to EU policymakers in March 2021.

If you have missed this event, a second public information session will be organised in the coming weeks, during which the main results of the research will be explained along with the outcomes of this webinar. Stay tuned for more information!