A milestone for the work on public procurement of food in the COCOREADO project was the assessment of sustainability in selected public procurement cases, which we completed this August. The cases were assessed based on four basic criteria: i) Division of the tender into smaller lots has to be done for reasons compliant with EU procurement law; ii) The price per meal of the tender has to be high enough to make it likely that the food can be of a good quality; iii) The tender has to include sustainability criteria that are well-defined and included in a way that allows sustainability to affect the outcome of the tender; and iv) The tender has to include specifics about contract management, so it will be possible to follow up on compliance in the contract period.
These criteria are very basic criteria, and throughout the process of evaluation of procurement cases, it became apparent that there is a general lack of knowledge about sustainable public procurement. It is easy to believe that because a tender uses terminology associated with sustainability, the implementation of it will lead to procurement that is truly more sustainable than before. However, citing our second and third basic criteria used for the assessment: This can only be the case if the criteria truly impact the result, both through being clearly described and adequately ambitious in their scope, and if the tender enables following up, to ensure that the actual performance of the supplier is equal to the promises made in the bidding process.
Importantly, once these basic criteria are met, it is possible to be more ambitious when it comes to sustainability. From the point of view of the COCOREADO project, we identify improvements that can ensure more sustainable public procurement:
It is important to make sure that the sustainability criteria selected for the tender address the main problems. When it comes to food, by far the largest environmental impact happens when the food is produced, so ambitious sustainability in food procurement requires that demands are made with regards to what food is procured and how it is produced. It is not enough to address packaging, transport etc. as the contributions of these aspects to the total environmental footprint are relatively minor, compared to the production of the food itself (Poore and Nemecek, 2018).
Additionally, facilitating competition between bidders on sustainability parameters can result in a tender that does not only achieve fulfillment of a minimum required level of sustainability, but allows the bidders to be more ambitious and to outcompete each other. This requires that the selected sustainability criteria are at least as important as the price when points are awarded to the bids.
Finally, the tender has to increase the chance of small-scale farmers being able to participate in public procurement. Strengthening the position of the farmer is a key focus of COCOREADO, and several of the project’s Ambassadors are small-scale farmers themselves.
The question for us then becomes: How can small-scale farmers be included in the sustainable public procurement of food of the future?
Our hypothesis going into the next phase of our work in COCOREADO, is that a cultural shift needs to happen, where procurement officers become aware that procurement can be done differently, and other approaches are tested and implemented.
To find out exactly what the issues faced by small-scale farmers, and whether they are consistent across Europe, six COCOREADO partner institutions are currently investigating barriers for farmers in their region, and the potential barriers were also discussed with COCOREADO Ambassadors at the recent training in Pamplona. The knowledge on barriers will be an important part of a multi-stakeholder workshop hosted by COCOREADO in the spring of 2023, where they will be disseminated to and discussed with procurement officers, policy makers and other actors who are influential in the field.
Parallel to this, we are cooperating with the COACH project in investigating Dynamic Purchasing Systems. These are procurement methods that have not traditionally been used for food procurement, but which has a huge potential to create a space for small-scale farmers to become suppliers to public kitchens.
References: J. Poore, J. and nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, vol. 360, issue 6392, pp. 987-992.
Adam Addis Prag – University of Copenhagen