Goverment launches first green public procurement action plan

Environment minister Phil Hogan and public expenditure and reform minister Brendan Howlin today launched Green Tenders, Ireland’s first green public procurement action plan. The aim of the plan is to encourage public authorities to purchase more sustainable products and services.

The action plan stresses that green public procurement can be a “driver for innovation” and “provide a competitive advantage for emerging companies”.

Public authorities spend approximately €14 billion annually on products and services. “Clearly, Ireland’s public sector has considerable leverage to stimulate the marketplace in favour of the provision of more resource-efficient, less polluting, goods, services and works. By using their purchasing power to choose, goods, services and works with a reduced environmental impact, public authorities can make an important contribution towards local, national and international sustainability goals. Green public procurement can therefore be a key driver of the green economy in Ireland,“ a statement from the ministers read.

The plan is focused on eight areas: construction, energy, transport, food and catering services, cleaning products and services, paper, uniforms and textiles, and information and communications technology. It acknowledges that in areas where the market for particular green products or services is “not sufficiently competitive”, a phased approach may be necessary to “encourage the emergence of new suppliers”.

The document specifies a wide range of green criteria for the construction and renovation of public buildings other than dwellings, which the department said are dealt with under separate Department of Environment documentation such as the building regulations, social housing retrofit programme and yet-to-be-published national retrofit code of practice. It is not clear whether the criteria also apply to public infrastructure projects other than buildings.

The construction criteria include assessments of six green criteria: design, energy, materials, refurbishment, specification, and ecology and site utilities. The plan states that:

  • energy efficiency should be designed into buildings during early design stages, and that “passive design strategies” should be prioritised in all new building projects
  • the procurement process for architectural and engineering services should assess candidates’ experience and qualifications in sustainable design
  • public sector construction projects should aim to reduce energy demand, maximise energy efficiency and use the least carbon intensive energy sources practical
  • all materials used in construction should be assessed for environmental impacts, and public procurers should consider the manufacture, construction, maintenance and disposal impacts of their most commonly used materials — including their embodied energy and CO2, use of resources, construction waste, durably and recyclability
  • public procurers should check that any green claims made by suppliers can be verified
  • the re-use and refurbishment of existing buildings should be given priority over new build
  • public bodies will only be able to rent or purchase buildings with a BER of B3 as of 1 January, and this will increase to A3 from 2015 (as per EU regulations)
  • when carrying out retrofits, public bodies should consider using energy performance contracting or similar financing models
  • the government will develop a target BER for new construction projects (as per the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan)
  • by 2017, it will be mandatory that construction timber be procured only from sources independently verified as legally logged and sustainable. But despite extensive references to timber specifications, no specific requirements are detailed for cement or concrete.
  • when purchasing relevant equipment or vehicles, public bodies should only buy products listed on the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s Triple E register of energy efficient products, or which satisfy SEAI’s energy efficiency criteria for the product in question
  • the government will explore the feasibility of developing a national methodology for life cycle analysis and life cycle costing of construction projects

The plan also outlines a range of green criteria for the procurement of transport vehicles, food, cleaning products, paper, uniforms and textiles, and information and communications technology.
In a joint foreword to Green Tenders, the ministers said the document is a “major milestone, not just in effectively introducing a sustainable development mindset within public procurement practices, but also in ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely.”

An implementation group, representative of public authorities and relevant stakeholders, will be established to monitor implementation of the action plan and to report on progress annually.

Green Tenders was developed following a public consultation process. Fifty seven written submissions were received from public sector stakeholders, supplier and wider private sector representatives, academic specialists, and from environmental and social NGOs.

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