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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Ecolabels in circular public procurement: status and improvement potentials

Public procurement is often highlighted as an important tool in the transition to a circular economy, as public entities in EU purchase goods and services for approximately 14% of EU GDP (European Commission, 2017a). This approach is what the EU Commission considers as “Circular Public Procurement” (CPP), a type of green public procurement that pays special attention to “the purchase of works, goods or services that seek to contribute to the closed energy and material loops within supply chains, whilst minimising, and in the best case avoiding, negative environmental impacts and waste creation across the whole life-cycle” (European Commission, 2017b). Several EU countries are advancing in the implementation of CPP as a tool to support a circular economy transition (Alhola et al., 2017; European Commission, 2017c). Besides an increasing focus on implementing CPP in EU, the latest revision of the Public Procurement Directive (2014/24/EU) also clarifies the use of ecolabels in the procurement process to support green public procurement. Particularly in Denmark, current practices within Danish public authorities are, after a very slow start, increasingly looking into using ecolabels in public procurement. While ecolabels address environmental considerations on a product level, CPP requires considerations at a systemic level. The connection between ecolabels and CPP is therefore an interesting research area that has not yet been explored in practice or research. This paper investigates the role of ecolabels in CPP and explores whether ecolabels enable or hinder circularity in public procurement? This is done by examining the understanding and use of CPP and ecolabels in Danish municipalities and analysing how existing ecolabel schemes can be improved to include circularity. The empirical data is based on interviews with purchasers of front-runner municipalities in Denmark within green and/or circular public procurement as well as ecolabelling organizations in Denmark. The aim of a qualitative approach is to uncover current practices and logics in the application of both ecolabels and CPP, the relationship between ecolabels and CE, and the improvement potential of existing ecolabel criteria. This research is based on a theoretical understanding of “practices” as a concept that addresses what actually happens in an organization; how people work. To the individuals, different ways of purchasing make sense and therefore purchasing practices can differ. Understanding how the purchasers actually apply circular procurement is important to understand how ecolabels can support CPP.

References Alhola, K., Salmenperä, H., Ryding, S.-O., Busch, N.J., 2017. Circular Public Procurement in the Nordic Countries. doi: 10.6027/TN2017-512 European Commission, 2017a. Public procurement strategy - European Commission [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 7.25.17). European Commission, 2017b. Public procurement for a circular economy. Good practice and guidance. European Commission, 2017c. Circular Procurement [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 1.22.19).

Heidi Simone Kristensen
HOLMRIS B8 Circular

Alberto Huerta Morales
Aalborg University

Mette Alberg Mosgaard
Aalborg University


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