In this section, we include key questions that may arise when considering the implementation of Open and Sustainable Public Procurement. For each of these questions, we provide essential information, and point to relevant external sources, case studies, Open SPP toolkit sections where you can find further information.
What is Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP)?

Sustainable Public Procurement is defined by UNEP as “a process whereby public sector organizations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organization, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimizing, and if possible, avoiding, damage to the environment.”

In other words, SPP is the consideration of the three sustainable development pillars (economic, social, and environmental) when carrying out public procurement. This can include, for example, designing the procurement process to promote local companies (economic), ensuring that suppliers monitor labor rights compliance across their supply chain (social), or purchasing products made of recycled materials (environmental). For an overview of more factors that can be considered within each of these pillars see this section.

What is the difference between SPP and Open SPP?

Open and Sustainable Public Procurement (Open SPP) refers to the application of open contracting and open government practices to underpin successful SPP implementation, and drive better sustainable outcomes.

According to the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) “open contracting is about publishing and using open, accessible, and timely information on government contracting to engage citizens and businesses in identifying and fixing problems.” Open contracting entails disclosure and engagement throughout the entire procurement process, from planning to implementation.

In the first section of this toolkit, we identify seven key practices that are essential for Open SPP implementation, and that are referred to throughout the toolkit.

How can you check whether current regulation allows for SPP implementation?

There is a common belief that, when the enabling framework - that is, the existing rules and policies that govern your procurement - establishes that public contracts have to be awarded to the lowest price bid, it is difficult to implement SPP. However, this is a misconception, and regardless of the enabling framework, there is often a lot of room for SPP implementation.To evaluate your options, we recommend that you start by identifying current regulation regarding evaluation criteria:

  • When the enabling framework only allows price to be considered as evaluation criteria, there are three main approaches you can take: introducing sustainability criteria as essential requirements, using Life-cycle costing calculations, and ensuring compliance with existing sustainability regulations.
  • When the enabling framework leaves room for considering evaluation criteria other than price, you can use existing sustainability plans and policies to guide the design of sustainability evaluation criteria.

Once you have identified regulation regarding evaluation criteria, we recommend identifying other existing regulatory mechanisms, such as procurement thresholds, or targets, that might enable SPP practices. You can use this checklist for a quick way to evaluate your enabling framework, and access this section to gain a deeper understanding of the concepts introduced in the checklist.

How can you prioritize procurement categories?

When starting to implement SPP, prioritizing specific product categories can help to focus SPP efforts. There are different factors that can be considered when conducting the prioritization exercise, these can be largely divided into two main categories:

  • Factors that will help you to determine the sustainability impact of implementing SPP in a specific category (such as attributed CO2 emissions).
  • Factors which will help you to assess ease of implementation (such as availability of environmental labels).

For more information on these factors, see this section. For an example, see Vietnam’s application of UNEP’s Prioritization Exercise. This case study demonstrates how a simple measuring technique can be used to assess product categories according to their procurement value; the availability and cost of sustainable alternatives; and their environmental, economic and social impact, to prioritize product categories.

As a national authority, how can you facilitate Open SPP?

There are different ways in which national, local, or regional authorities can facilitate SPP implementation. As well as establishing a clear enabling framework, you can:

  • Standardize sustainability criteria - that is, provide guidance on which sustainability criteria procurement practitioners should set when purchasing within specific procurement categories.
  • Create and share registries and catalogs of sustainable suppliers. This will help tackle legal concerns from procurement practitioners, as it would be understood that purchasing products or services from the catalog is supported by the government.
  • Engage with stakeholders. This includes organizing capacity-building workshops with procurement practitioners, engaging with suppliers to involve them in the SPP journey, and consulting with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on best sustainability approaches.
  • Set up a help desk and central information point. Provide an easy way for procurement practitioners to access guidance on SPP practices, including existing regulation, standardized criteria, and best practice examples. It can also be useful to set up a help desk for practitioners to ask about any SPP implementation queries.

For more information on this see this section.

What should you include in an SPP Action Plan?

An SPP Action Plan serves as reference for procurement practitioners to understand what is compliant, and what is not, as well as to ensure standardization, accountability, and continuity regardless of institutional leadership changes. Public authorities can use the SPP Action Plan as a way to communicate how practitioners can implement SPP within the existing framework, and how this framework will develop during a specific time period. In this way, you can communicate in your Action Plan:

  • Enabling framework: how SPP can be implemented according to existing regulation, and any changes that will be introduced to increase the implementation scope (e.g. reserved contracts).
  • Prioritized procurement categories: which categories have been prioritized, and why, as well as guidance on implementing SPP in these categories.
  • Goals and targets: what are the sustainability objectives that are being pursued (e.g. carbon reduction), how will progress against these be measured (e.g. number of tenders which include environmental criteria), and associated targets (e.g. 50% of procurements to incorporate environmental criteria by 2030).
  • Capacity building plan: what mechanisms will be put in place to facilitate implementation (e.g. creating registries and catalogs of sustainable suppliers, or delivering SPP training sessions for procurement professionals).
  • Governance structure and responsibilities: public authorities responsible for coordinating, and executing the different practices associated to the SPP strategy.
  • Assigned budget: what budget will be dedicated with the SPP strategy (e.g. development of guidance materials, training sessions, etc.).

This Action Plan index can serve as guidance to structure an Action Plan. You can access this section for more information on Action Plans, and best practice examples.

How can you find and engage with sustainable suppliers?

Engaging with the supplier market is important for all procurement processes. However, it becomes especially relevant in the context of SPP to:

  • Assess market capability.
  • Maximize suppliers bidding for contract opportunities.
  • Promoting trust and transparency.
  • Gathering feedback on your approach from the market.

There are different ways to engage with the market throughout the procurement process:

  • When preparing for creating your SPP Action Plan: organizing workshops, online consultations, industry events, and using surveys and questionnaires to develop and test the sustainability strategy.
  • During the procurement planning phase: organizing events with suppliers to present sustainability objectives, and conducting market research to assess availability of sustainable options.
  • During procurement: notifying the market of the intention to award a contract, developing channels to engage with priority supplier groups (e.g. SMEs), giving channels for feedback, and facilitating supplier consortia.

For more information see this section.

What is an ecolabel and how can you use them for SPP?

The Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) defines ecolabelling as “a voluntary method of environmental performance certification and labeling that is practiced around the world”. In this way, an “ecolabel identifies products or services proven to be environmentally preferable within a specific category”. The International Standards Organization (ISO) currently classifies these labels into three types: Type I, Type II, Type III, and Type I-like.

Type I, and Type I-like ecolabels usually publish the criteria that should be met to receive the certification. To procure more sustainably, you can ask suppliers to comply with the criteria set by a specific label, or use some of the criteria to draft specifications in a contract.

For more information on how to use ecolabels during a procurement process, see this guide. To assess the availability of Type I ecolabels, the Global Ecolabel Network offers a directory of the main ecolabels according to product and services categories.

What is Life Cycle Costing (LCC) and how can you apply it in procurement?

There is a common misconception that procuring sustainable products and services always means spending more money. In reality, although sustainable alternatives can sometimes have a higher acquisition cost, if the operation, maintenance and disposal costs are also taken into account, they can become the cheaper alternative. Life Cycle Costing (LCC) calculates these costs, and can also include the calculation of environmental costs, such as CO2 emissions.

For more information on Life Cycle Costing (LCC) see this section. For practical tools, the European Commission has developed five LCC excel-based tools for specific product-categories (Vending Machines, Imaging Equipment, Computers and Monitors, Indoor and Outdoor Lighting). The tools include information on how they can be used before tendering to evaluate different solutions, during tendering to compare offers and after tendering to evaluate performance.