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An Introduction to Sustainable Public Procurement


Understanding the project brief and objectives of the project

Government is one of the largest consumers in the economy and wields great purchasing power to shape local and national economies. The public sector can spend between 15% - 30% of their annual budget on procurement. With this great purchasing power, comes the responsibility to choose materials and products not only for their functionality, affordability and durability but to also include considerations for environmental and socio-economic benefit to communities (Figure 1), municipalities and the country as a whole; known as Sustainable Public Procurement. It can allow government to lead by example and use its market power to positively impact the environment and society for all citizens and future generations.

Sustainable public procurement is seen as an effective tool and mechanism for governments in Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve their political and financial commitments. Each country has committed to reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and prioritisation of sustainable development. Internationally, this is through the Paris Climate Agreement, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and United Nations HABITAT III New Urban Agenda, and nationally through the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Across the continent, there are calls for the creation of opportunities for jobs and growth in the green economy, which can be enabled and supported by Sustainable Public Procurement practices. Sustainable Public Procurement also enables municipalities to adhere to their financial mandate, as procuring more sustainable products or services often results in a reduced overall cost to the municipality in the long term, Sustainable Public Procurement is in line with the true meaning of ‘value for money’.


Some of the key considerations for sustainable public procurement include:

Life cycle Costing: Cost is often a hindrance to choosing environmentally-friendly products and materials. It is important to understand the full life cycle costing of a product or material. If there is a greater upfront cost, yet it lasts longer, requires less maintenance and uses less energy and or water during operation, then it is a cheaper option in the long term, especially in light of future electricity and water price increases. Long-term, life cycle thinking can help to motivate for environmentally appropriate interventions, materials and products. This is especially beneficial for the municipality which is responsible for the maintenance and purchasing of electricity and water for use in public buildings, facilities, rental housing and infrastructure. This is an opportunity for direct cost savings to the municipality.

Local sourcing: Sourcing materials and products locally has positive environmental and economic benefits as greenhouse gas emissions are reduced from limiting transport needs and jobs are created, developing the local economy. Building materials are considered to be sourced locally if they are extracted, harvested, recovered and manufactured within 400km of the construction site. To ensure even greater environmental benefits, the materials should be sourced within 50km of the site (GBCSA, Green Star Office v1).

Low embodied energy and water: Products that use less energy and water in the harvesting and manufacturing process have a positive impact on the environment as resource use is reduced.

End of life use/cradle-to-cradle: Sustainable Public Procurement is not only concerned with the production and use of a product or material but also the end stage of the material’s life span, once it is no longer needed or functional. Sustainable public procurement should aim to reduce waste to landfill and to reduce the use of limited resources through making use of reusable, recyclable or biodegradable materials or products.

Sustainable procurement requires a shift in, rather than an overhaul of, current procurement practices. This shift in thinking and practice requires training and support to municipalities, as well as the development of partnerships for learning and innovative problem-solving as the programme is rolled out and implemented.

It is now important to scale up Sustainable Public Procurement to embed it in the systems and practices across provincial and local government, with support from national government. Furthermore, it makes sense to adopt Sustainable Public Procurement as a policy, rather than just as an ad-hoc practice, so that it can be supported, monitored and improved over time. A Sustainable Public Procurement policy can also help to establish mandated communication between the users or commissioners of goods, works and services and the procurers, to ensure needs are met in a sustainable manner.

As governments pioneer the implementation of the systems and practices for Sustainable Public Procurement in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a need to learn from inspiring practice and leading organisations from around the world. Furthermore, as lessons are learnt they must be shared with other governments across the region and globally.

ICLEI’s Sustainable Economy and Procurement (SEP) team is made up of eight procurement experts, with experience in capacity building, providing direct support and training across a range of product groups and topics, developing guidance and criteria and implementing innovation, sustainable and strategic procurement. As well as ICLEI’s SEP Team in Freiburg, ICLEI’s Brussels Office is run by a procurement specialist with over 10 years’ experience of working in the field of sustainable, innovation and strategic procurement.


ICLEI has developed and manages a number of key initiatives:

  • The Procura+ European Sustainable Public Procurement Network: The Procura+ Network has been developed by and for procurers and staff dealing with sustainability and innovation issues in public authorities. It is a European network of public authorities that connect, exchange and act on sustainable and innovation procurement.
  • The Procurement of Innovation Platform, an online hub that helps public authorities, procurers, policy makers, researchers and other stakeholders harness the power of public procurement of innovation (PPI) and pre-commercial procurement (PCP).
  • The Sustainable Public Procurement Platform: a website bringing together all the latest news and resources on sustainable procurement, together with opportunities to get involved.
  • The Public Procurement of Innovation Platform: the first port of call for all things related to public procurement of innovation (PPI). It contains the latest news on PPI developments and events, the European legal framework and policy support.
  • The Procurement Forum: a professional network for procurers to share information and discuss experiences, problems and solutions.
  • The EcoProcura series of conferences, providing procurers, sustainability experts and suppliers with a European meeting place.


ICLEI Africa is currently working on the following three projects:

  • German Development Institute - Fair Procurement in Sub-Saharan Africa: With an understanding of the strategic importance of Sustainable Public Procurement, ICLEI Africa is working with the German Development Institute to understand the enabling environment for its implementation. This is a four month component of a two-year project research, financed by Engagement Global through funds by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The study analyses the occurrence and importance of certain factors in introducing and implementing sustainable procurement practices, predominantly in municipal contexts, in Sub-Saharan Africa. The study is focusing on three countries were great strides for SPP have taken place: Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa. In contrast to many studies that focus on success factors of sustainable public procurement, this study aims to identify the underlying dynamics and motivations that lead to these factors.
  • Western Cape Government Smart Procurement Programme: To contribute to the achievement of the Green Economy Strategy by supporting provincial and local governments in the Western Cape to implement sustainable public procurement in policy and action over a three year period, til March 2021.
  • South African Cities Sustainable Public Procurement
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