Purchasing policies move towards life cycle assessment

15 July 2010

Purchasing policies move towards life cycle assessment

by Outi Marin

A steering group led by the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy recently presented its proposal for a green public purchasing policy for wooden products to Mr. Mauri Pekkarinen, Minister of Economic Affairs. The purpose is to start implementing the proposal immediately.
Corresponding policies have been adopted in various European countries. However, these policies have focused on the verification of the legality and sustainability of wood as raw material.
Although this is an important angle, it does not tell the whole truth about environmental friendliness. In contrast, the Finnish proposal takes into account the whole life cycle. In addition to the origin of wood, it assesses the environmental effects of the manufacturing, use and final disposal of the products. The proposal also assesses the environmental characteristics of wooden construction products, furniture and paper.
In addition, the proposal provides means for assessing the cost of the goods purchased across their whole life cycle. Thanks to this, it is possible to consider whether it makes sense to purchase a more expensive product if its cost across the whole life cycle is lower than that of the others. Besides, the most ecological alternative is sometimes the cheapest one, at least in the long run.

Work is only beginning
The basic idea behind sustainable development is continuous improvement. This is why the proposal attempts to look forward into the future.
For example, as regards construction products, the idea is to assess the environmental impact of buildings, instead of looking at individual lots of wood materials, for example.
The proposal also takes into consideration the European standard for construction products (EN 15804), about to be finalised. The environmental impact assessment is also easy to adapt to raw materials other than wood.
Making public projects greener takes some skill. Improving them, especially as regards purchasing, has been long under discussion. However, according to the proposal, better skills are also needed on the supply side.
Achieving this requires guidance. The steering group suggests that the Ministry should consider which bodies would be the best to carry this out.

Opportunity for forest sector
Public purchasing is one way of guiding the markets into a more environmental direction. Not only does it have a direct effect on public construction, but it also works as a good example for the private market.
Moreover, it creates a demand for more environmental products and possibly opens up the market for innovations.
In recent years, the annual value of the Finnish public purchasing market has been EUR 23 million on the average. This should be an interesting market for the forest sector as well.
The proposal sets up environmental recommendations for wood products, which is an advantage for marketing them. As long as the recommendations are followed, the purchaser can be confident that the decisions are environmentally sound.
The proposal gives the forest sector the opportunity to study the subject together with the public purchasers and to look for best practices to implement the green policy.
Among the subjects to be studied are public invitations to tender and tendering: how to implement these so that the environmental goals are also met. On the basis of the new policy, the forest sector also has the opportunity to look for environmental innovations together with the public sector.
All in all, the green purchasing policy can be seen as a horror scenario for free trade, or it can be used to acquire competitive edge. Which it is going to be is entirely in the hands of the forest sector actors.