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Public procurement of products from renewable resources in Germany: Results from empirical studies
Total spend by public institutions (state government, cities, schools, universities, hospitals) in Germany has an annual volume between 350 and 450 billion euros. Therefore, these institutions could serve as a role model for sustainable procurement, while products from renewable resources can contribute significantly towards reaching ecological as well as social goals in public procurement. However, as of today public procurement explicitly addresses products from renewable resources only to a rather small extent.
Our empirical study is part of a 3 year project that aims to evaluate the current state, obstacles and barriers as well as future developments in the field of public procurement with special emphasis on “bio-based” products from renewable resources in Germany. By repeating the study over a three-year timespan, we want to measure and evaluate progress regarding the addressed issues. Two surveys that addressed public institutions (municipalities, counties, universities, hospitals and governmental administrations) have been conducted in 2017 and 2018 with 1163 and 866 participants, respectively. Although the public authorities state that ecological concerns are a significant factor in the contract awarding process, bio-based products are rarely considered as a relevant alternative for non-bio-based products, so far. We therefore asked for and identified major obstacles and barriers public purchasers are facing when coping with the issue of procuring bio-based products. Furthermore, we evaluated possible measures to improve the current situation. Interestingly, we could learn from our third empirical study that addressed companies offering bio-based products to public institutions, that both sides – demand and supply – have more or less the same perceptions regarding existing hurdles for leveraging sustainable public procurement.
As expected, the major obstacle against procuring more products from renewable resources is the higher acquisition price related to conventional products. Life-cycle cost analyses that include the usage and/or disposal phase or the inclusion of social costs (e.g. CO2 emissions) are applied only seldom. Moreover, most public institutions are still very much fixed on the acquisition price as the ruling criterion in the contract awarding process. The participants of the study regard additional workload and perceived uncertainties when considering bio-based products in the procurement process as well as shortages regarding human resources as further obstacles.
According to the participants of the study, the most effective measures to reduce the perceived hurdles are clarifications regarding the applicable law as well as the availability of both, additional financial and human resources. Correlation analyses show that institutions that have implemented certain measures to promote bio-based products perceive potential hurdles to a lower degree.
One of the key findings of the study is that there is no blank refusal by public authorities to consider bio-based products within their tenders. Moreover, many expect that bio-based products will play a significant role in the near future while aiming for a more sustainable public procurement.