November 2017 saw the launch of the European Resource Efficiency Knowledge Centre’s series of capacity-building workshops, with the first event taking place in Berlin regarding resource efficiency in the manufacturing industry.  A second successful workshop has since taken place in the UK, in Wales’ capital city, Cardiff, on the 20th of March 2018.  Hosted by WRAP, the event – ‘Resource Efficiency and Circularity: Benefits for the Public Sector’ – was attended by over 50 individuals, including decision-makers, intermediaries, buyers and procurement professionals.

Delegates discovered the many benefits of embedding sustainability into their organisations’ procurement practices; hearing first-hand from those involved in success stories in both Wales and further afield in the EU.  Inspiring presentations and interactivity via a roundtable discussion and panel debate, enabled delegates to discover the strategic and commercial advantages that can be gained through prioritising resource efficiency, the circular economy and sustainability when procuring goods and services.  The engaged audience was challenged to think differently and to consider how they could make their current approaches even better, which culminated in several ideas and potential solutions being discussed.

The event also highlighted the ways in which innovative procurement can enable organisations to meet the goals set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.  Unique to Wales, and attracting interest from across the world, the Act requires Welsh public bodies to take into consideration the long-term impact of their decisions – to act today for a better tomorrow.  Speaking passionately about this Act, and the significant opportunity it offers to make a long-lasting, positive change, was the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe.  The line-up of high profile, inspirational speakers also included Cuno van Geet from the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, along with many others.

Delegates were welcomed to the event by Carl Nichols, Head of WRAP Cymru, who praised Wales’ efforts as a small nation to lead the transition to a circular economy through its ambitious targets set by the Welsh Government to reduce waste.  Now the second best recycling nation in the world, Wales’ achievements were highlighted, as well as the government’s intention to consult on an 80% recycling target for 2035, its plans to make the Welsh public sector carbon neutral by 2030, and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 – a ground-breaking piece of legislation , which demands that Wales’ public bodies place sustainability at the heart of their decision-making.  Carl also called on delegates to share best practice and to learn from examples from across Europe, and for Wales’ wider public sector to act as catalysts for the adoption of more circular business models throughout their supply chains.

Following this introduction to the event, Bettina Gilbert, Programme Area Manager at WRAP Cymru, gave a presentation on the EREK project, its background and the benefits of joining the network.  Delegates were invited to visit the EREK portal during the networking lunch, in order to become a member and to complete the office questionnaire to increase their workplace resource efficiency.

To close the morning session, Cuno van Geet of Rijkswaterstaat and Mervyn Jones of Sustainable Global Resources Ltd led an interactive workshop.  Attendees were provided with best practice examples of circular public procurement from across Europe - from product categories including Food & Catering, Workwear & Textiles, Construction, Transport, ICT & Electricals and Furniture - and were then challenged to think about product categories across which they could evolve their own procurement practices to create market drivers to increase resource efficiency.  The workshop highlighted:

  • the importance of selecting high-potential product groups suitable for the application of circular procurement principles;
  • the role of pilots to grow momentum around circular procurement;
  • and that groups with average product complexity and technical lifetime were ideally suited for circular business models.

It was noted that there are examples of many successful pilot projects, but there remains a need for wide-scale cultural change amongst public bodies to drive the transition to a circular economy.

Participants were tasked with working in teams to create an overview of high-potential product groups within their organisations, based on four key criteria - spend, risk, scope to improve sustainability and opportunity to influence the market - and then to share their thoughts and learnings with the room.  Key learnings focussed on opportunities for quick wins by changing the ways products are used and disposed of (e.g. to facilitate re-use), for suppliers to maintain and increase profitability by adopting circular business models, for economic regeneration through re-use and for the collective spending power of government to be a driver for change.  However, more needs to be done to support SMEs by making it easier to bid for work; reducing form-filling and increasing engagement with suppliers to enable them to deliver environmentally sustainable products and services.  Delegates noted that there is a “need to switch from short-term annual cost savings to long-term aggregated cost savings” and that “procurement frameworks that last over several years can act as a barrier to finding different ways of working”.

Following lunch, Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, gave a very inspirational presentation during which she talked about the work of her office, her priorities for Wales’ public sector, and the way in which the Well-being of Future Generations Act is driving its increasing circularity.

The Act requires public bodies in Wales to consider the future effects of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.  Unique to Wales, it is attracting interest from countries across the world as it offers a huge opportunity to make a long-lasting, positive change to current and future generations.

Sophie called on delegates to change their behaviour and approach to procurement, and to think of the long-term impacts of their work.  She noted that there is a tension between striving for lower costs and achieving social benefits, and that focussing only on cost risks bankrupting world resources for future generations.  Delegates were encouraged to involve stakeholders and suppliers in their procurement planning, to view legislation as an empowering tool, not merely a compliance regime, and to practice the “the art of the possible”.

Following on from this, case study examples from Wales were presented by Rebecca Jones and Nerys Williams from the City and County of Swansea, Simon Jones from the Ministry of Furniture, and Michael McLeod from UniGreenScheme.  Delegates discovered how Swansea University furnished their new offices with re-used and remanufactured furniture, working together with Greenstream Flooring and Ministry of Furniture to create a comfortable and vibrant workspace at a fraction of the cost.  Michael subsequently discussed his asset resale scheme, which sells re-used and remanufactured lab equipment to universities across the UK.

The final session of the afternoon was a panel debate with Carl Nichols, Andy Rees, Head of the Waste Strategy Branch at the Welsh Government, Cuno van Geet, and Alex Forrest from Eunomia Consulting.  The panellists discussed the support, knowledge and incentives that are required to overcome barriers in order to drive demand for resource efficiency and circularity in the public sector, and one thing they could each do differently to achieve this goal.  Cuno noted that EU procurement rules do allow a different approach to be taken, but advised delegates to look at scalability, and that it takes time, budget and persistence to create change.  Delegates were also advised to ensure they know when their next framework contract will be issued and to raise their requirements in anticipation of that when tendering.  Doing so leaves room for innovations coming through in the next five years that can’t be foreseen now, to look at the whole life cost of products/services, and to ensure that green public procurement is driven from the top down within organisations.

Throughout the day, the event offered delegates thought-provoking and engaging opportunities for debate and to reflect on practices within their organisations.  Best practice examples of circular procurement were presented and delegates were challenged to think about steps they could take to promote a circular economy and drive demand for sustainable products and services.  EREK was highlighted as an important and valuable resource for organisations seeking to improve their resource efficiency.

There are many examples of successful green procurement exercises, but the challenge now is to embed sustainability into everyday business practices.  The public sector is well placed to lead the way by ensuring - even demanding - change and improvement, both within their organisations and from their suppliers.

Please be aware that further EREK workshops will be held across Europe during the course of the next year.  Information will be made available on our Events page as and when the details are confirmed. We are looking forward to see you at more EREK workshops!

© WRAP, 2018, source: own photo
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