Green Public Procurement: Climate Provisions in Public Tenders Can Help Reduce German Carbon Emissions

By Olga Chiappinelli, Friedemann Gruner, and Gustav Weber

Given the large impact of their purchases, governments and other public authorities can exploit their procurement decisions to pursue strategic policy and welfare objectives, among which climate change mitigation is a priority. Green Public Procurement (GPP) practices that take into account the carbon footprint of products and services in the award of public contracts can allow public authorities to reduce their carbon footprint, as well as to create demand and markets for climate-friendly options. However, there is neither a clear understanding of the decarbonization potential of GPP, nor of the status of, and barriers to, GPP implementation. To fill this gap, BCCP Fellow Olga Chiappinelli and her co-authors Friedemann Gruner and Gustav Weber provide a quantitative analysis of these elements for the case of Germany.

To assess the emissions that could be potentially reduced by GPP in Germany, they adopt an emissions accounting approach to estimate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are related to consumption and investment decisions made by the government. They find that government procurement accounts for at least 125 Megatons CO2 equivalents, which amounts to 12 percent of the total greenhouse gas footprint of Germany. They also find that government construction is responsible for 28 percent of total emissions of the construction sector, which suggests that construction and, in particular, infrastructure works are important areas for climate change mitigation through procurement.

To assess the status of GPP implementation in Germany, the authors conduct a survey of procurement officials across the country. Results show that the uptake of GPP is still moderate in Germany. Of all tenders awarded in the last two years across Germany, around one quarter contained some element of GPP. Only 15 percent of contracting authorities use GPP regularly (i.e., in at least half of all the tenders they award). In addition, of the authorities adopting GPP, less than half include provisions explicitly aimed at reducing embodied emissions in their procurement procedures. Therefore, the mitigation potential of GPP could be exploited to a higher degree.

Survey results also suggest that the most important perceived barrier to broader implementation is associated with the technical complexity of GPP, which arises both at the tender stage, when including the environmental dimensions and requirements in the tender documents, and after the tender stage, when assessing the compliance of the winning offer with these requirements. This complexity requires specialized expertise and training, which is currently largely missing among German contracting authorities. These barriers are particularly strong at the municipal level, where large shares of procurement take place and capacity constraints are larger. Thus, the study concludes by suggesting that priority policy measures to realize the mitigation potential of GPP should not just include triggering political commitment to GPP at the local level but also training officials on GPP and providing effective external technical assistance service to support its implementation.

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