John Hontelez, Chief Advocacy Officer, FSC


Green (and inclusive) economy, sustainable economy, sustainable development – whatever we call it, sustainable public procurement (SPP) has to be part of it. Public authorities are big consumers. In the European Union (EU) their purchases represent 18% of GDP, in other parts of the world it is over 20%. Their choices can create reliable markets for environmentally and socially sound products, services and works, thereby contributing, in a practical way, to sustainable production and consumption patterns.


woman-farmerIf SPP is well designed, it can, for instance, boost sustainable forest management, which can help to put an end to the ongoing deforestation and forest degradation in large parts of the world. Particularly in the tropical regions, deforestation has, overall, hardly slowed down in the past decade. This undermines the livelihoods of the local population, contributes to climate change, and reduces the resilience and diversity of these important ecosystems. Consequently, it both reduces the carrying capacity of our planet, and the social and economic opportunities for these societies.


What first needs to be done in any country is, of course, to fight illegal logging and deal with the social causes of forest degradation. National legislation should cover traditional property and access rights for the local communities, and environmental and social conditions. But authorities at all levels can give a direct push to support sustainable forest management by requiring that anything that they buy, build or maintain – that has a forest origin – comes from sustainably managed forests. The best proof of this is to ask for FSC certification.


SPP has not been given much attention in the current proposals for Rio+20, except through four amendments by the EU. But it is being practiced in more and more countries, often as a result of the initiative of cities, but also through the development of systematic policies by national governments. Usually the environmental dimension is more present than the social one. The EU is currently discussing legislation on public procurement that will allow environmental requirements to be much clearer than social ones.


Representatives from developing countries often express concern that promoting SPP can complicate exports to developed countries, and that it will be difficult for local producers to comply with the criteria. These are fair points, but one should not throw out the baby with the bath water, but instead look at what are the practical constraints and resolve them.


One constraint can be lack of experience with SPP: How to do it, so that it makes a real difference in the environmental and social senses, while promoting economic activities, preferably local. Countries and cities with experience could commit themselves to team up with counterparts and share experience. Furthermore, it could be wise to phase-in SPP: let the market know that after 5 years, public authorities will start giving preference to bids that show evidence of sustainable production, for example with labels or certificates; and that this will become a requirement after 10 years. This would be a clear signal that there will be a market for economic operators that start innovating and reorganising their production. Also, where donors and other forms of assistance is needed to make the shift, there is a clear framework to get that going.In this way, developing countries can give a boost to sustainable production patterns domestically, leading to better management of their natural resources, better social conditions, new and better jobs, and increased export opportunities with more added value. And finally, it could give the boost to sustainable management of tropical forests, which is urgently needed.


Let’s use the Rio process to leave prejudice about SPP behind and instead generate a collaborative effort to get it going everywhere in the world and create a powerful signal to private consumers!




Forest Stewardship Council: developed sustainable forest management standards in balanced multi-stakeholder processes with essential social and environmental criteria.