30 July 2018

Shaping the future through strategic procurement: 20 years of EcoProcura

EcoProcura is an international conference series, which ICLEI started in 1998 with the aim to promote exchange and dialogue among purchasers from all levels of government, suppliers, policy-makers and multipliers on strategies and the latest practical solutions on sustainable, strategic, circular and innovation procurement.

Now in its twentieth year, we sit down with Mark Hidson, Global Director, ICLEI's Sustainable Procurement Centre, who reflects on 20 years of EcoProcura and the repositioning of public procurement from background necessity to strategic tool for achieving sustainable, circular and innovation-related goals.

How has public procurement changed over the last two decades, from when ICLEI held the first EcoProcura conference until now?

The world of public procurement has changed a lot in the last 20 years. When Hannover (Germany) held the first EcoProcura in 1998, the focus was very much on the basics, encouraging cities that they can and should focus on the ecological impact of products in addition to just cost when buying goods. Very quickly, however, the potential of public procurement caught on, to the extent that now - at EcoProcura 2018 in Nijmegen (The Netherlands) - we will demonstrate how public procurement is being used far more strategically, from driving sustainability in products and services, to stimulating greater innovation, and supporting the transition to a circular economy.

What does it mean to say that public procurement is now more strategic?

Using public procurement strategically simply means aligning a city's purchasing decisions with its broader goals. If you have a carbon target, then make sure you purchase low carbon goods and services. If you have a circular economy strategy, use your procurement to support circular business models. If you have training and employment goals, then insert appropriate social clauses into tenders. In short, the possibilities are vast!

Strategic procurement as a theme first emerged at EcoProcura 2014 in Ghent (Belgium), and since then, it has been adopted by the European Commission. But while there are great examples of strategic procurement in practice, it still far from being used across all public authorities or within all procurement decisions. Much of this is due to human barriers, such as lack of support from leaders, or lack of confidence or skills in procurers to take on undeniably more complex but also more rewarding challenges. But if these barriers were overcome, the payback would be huge. That's why behavior change will also be a major focus of EcoProcura 2018.

What do solar airplanes have to do with public procurement?

Everything! While - as far as I know - no cities have adopted solar planes into their mobility strategies, the solar airplane is the perfect metaphor for daring to do things differently. That's why Solar Impulse pilot Dr. Bertrand Piccard will be kicking off proceedings at this year's EcoProcura. No one thought a solar plane could make it around the whole world, but he showed that commitment, clear goals and the need to change people’s attitude lead to the kind of technical innovation which will change our future.

That's what procurers are doing every time they make a purchase - they are shaping the future. They set the standards that the market needs to meet, they support the business models which can deliver most sustainably, and they stimulate the demand for and investment in sustainable innovative solutions to society’s most pressing needs.

Why should public authorities and other organisations attend EcoProcura?

EcoProcura brings together leading-edge innovators in procurement. Across the three days, we will be hearing many best practices and approaches to strategic procurement and behaviour change. In addition, the breakout sessions - where participants get the chance to pick up practical skills - will cover topics like how to buy green electricity so that new generation capacity will actually be built; how to design zero-emission delivery systems for goods and services; and how to bring sustainability to the core of other major purchase decisions such as construction and food.

Perhaps most importantly, EcoProcura has become an essential forum for practitioners to meet and exchange on their current realities, and get enthused and excited for the future of procurement. There has never been more need and more support for strategic procurement, and cities now have to dare to do things differently. Procurement is an organisation’s biggest opportunity to directly influence the economy, and by being bold, we can achieve big things!

For more information about EcoProcura and to register for the conference, click here.