Helping commercial teams buy greener tech

Public procurement represents 15% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With over 300 councils across the UK declaring a climate emergency – and committing to achieve net zero targets – procurement emerges as a pivotal factor in this effort.

This highlights the increasing importance and complexity of the role of modern procurement and commercial teams. These teams are not only tasked with securing high-quality goods and services at competitive prices but also with spearheading their authorities’ long-term sustainability goals. 

To help organisations tackle this challenge, PUBLIC is partnering with the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) on a project funded by the Open Contracting Partnership’s Lift impact accelerator programme

In this project, we focus on the following challenge: how can UK public organisations procure greener technology? This initiative is not just about cutting carbon footprints but also about ensuring that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and voluntary, community, and social enterprises (VCSEs) remain competitive as the UK shifts towards greener procurement practices.

Why the Focus on Tech?

The environmental footprint of technology is significant and often underestimated. For instance, the carbon footprint of a standard laptop is around 400 kg, which is equivalent to driving 1,200 km in an SUV. A typical unitary authority might have around 2,000 laptops in use, highlighting the substantial impact of just one type of tech equipment.

Data centres, the backbone of our digital world, consumed 1.3% of global electricity in 2022 – enough to power 32 million UK households. Even emails contribute significantly to carbon emissions, with the annual global email traffic generating the equivalent CO2 emissions of 3,000 UK homes or burning 42.6 million tonnes of coal. These figures underscore the pressing need for greener tech solutions in the public sector.

The Current Landscape

Procurement is a key player on the road to net zero. The UK recognises this, with policies like PPN 06/21, PPN 06/20, and the Social Value Act providing an efficient framework to integrate environmental considerations into public purchases. However, in CCS and PUBLIC, we have heard from commercial teams that translating policy into practice remains a challenge.

Our Approach

Our approach to tackle this challenge involves 3 clear steps, with our current focus on the second step:

Step 1. Discovery & Engagement

In this initial phase, we have actively engaged with various stakeholders, including local authorities, tech SMEs, and environmental experts. This includes gathering insights from over 35 commercial teams and participating in discussions with CCS technology framework managers and tech SMEs. Furthermore, we sought insights from sustainable procurement professionals, drawing from their experiences in implementing similar criteria in other countries such as The Netherlands.

Step 2. Developing and Testing Criteria

Now, our focus shifts to the development and testing of criteria tailored to the UK context. With a lot of existing guidance and criteria available – such as the guidance published by tech ecolabel TCO – our aim is to review these sources and seek feedback from authorities and tech SMEs to develop UK-tailored green procurement assets. 

Step 3. Publishing Criteria

Once finalised, our research and criteria will be compiled into an accessible guide. We plan to integrate this guidance into the Buyer Guides used by the Crown Commercial Service for wider adoption.

Findings to Date

With the first step of our process complete, we share below the key insights from our conversations with commercial teams and tech suppliers. 

Insights from Commercial Teams

  • Green procurement is not always a priority across organisations – our research indicates that these initiatives are often driven by motivated individuals rather than being part of an organisational-wide policy.
  • Commercial teams struggle with translating policy guidance into category-specific social value or sustainability questions.
  • There is confusion surrounding the implementation of social versus environmental criteria within social value assessments.
  • Validating and monitoring compliance pose significant challenges for commercial teams, especially when it comes to technical environmental criteria.

Insights from Tech Suppliers

  • Social value criteria are not standardised across organisations, creating barriers for SME vendors.
  • Larger vendors often have an unfair advantage when social value and sustainability questions are disproportionate or unrelated to the contract’s subject matter.
  • While hardware vendors can offer greener alternatives, such as refurbished technology, cultural barriers and security concerns within public sector customers often hinder adoption.

What Our Guidance Will Include

Based on these insights, our final guidance will:

  • Be specific to tech products and services.
  • Offer simple and standardised criteria and language for direct use in tender documentation.
  • Provide comprehensive guidance on implementation, evaluation, and compliance monitoring.
  • Align with existing frameworks such as the Social Value Model and TOMS.

How to Get Involved

As we start developing criteria and guidance, we are interested in gathering feedback from councils and tech SMEs to ensure that developed assets are user-friendly and relevant to current practices. If you are interested in participating, please sign up via this Google Form, and we will be in touch with further information. 

We believe that adopting greener procurement practices is vital for achieving net zero targets. With technology playing an increasingly significant role, we hope that the outputs of this project will provide practical insights to kickstart the transition towards greener procurement practices in the UK public sector. 

This blog has been written by Leyre Villaizan, Senior Associate at PUBLIC.

Leyre Villaizan
20 May 2024 ·
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