Sustainable development is viewed as meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25 September 2015. The vision of this agenda anticipates a world free of poverty, hunger, disease, want, free of fear and violence, a world with universal literacy, equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels.
The plan determines to protect the planet from degradation through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change. It also plans that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.
The pledge of the 2030 agenda is that ‘no one will be left behind’ in the collective journey. The agenda plans to ensure the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination with respect of race, ethnicity and cultural diversity.
The 2030 agenda has adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets under these Goals. Among these, Goal 12 is on sustainable consumption and production. There are 11 targets under Goal 12 of which target 12.7 is related to public procurement. Target 12.7 promotes sustainable public procurement practices with national policies and priorities. So, being the signatory of the UN resolution, Bangladesh is also committed to promote sustainable public procurement practices.
European Commission defines sustainable public procurement as a process by which public authorities seek to achieve the appropriate balance between the three pillars of sustainable development- economic, social and environmental.
In a recent study, Lazaroiu et al. (2020) have described sustainable public procurement is a mechanism for environmental protection in addition to economic and social development whereas green public procurement addresses only environmental issue. Ho et al. (2010) opine that public procurement can play a leading role in the development of green purchasing. Serpell et al. (2013) identify construction industry as a key sector for sustainable development because of its socio-economic and environmental impact.
The significance of public procurement on the sustainable development can be understood with the volume of expenditure incurred through it. Zhu et al. (2013) mentions that in 2011, over six trillion US dollar was spent globally on public procurement. Fuentes-Bargues et. al (2017) argue that green public procurement is important as it accounts for approximately 10% to 15% of the GDP of developed countries.
Referring to the estimate of a recent study Grandia and Voncken (2019) have mentioned that public organizations of European Union (EU) annually spend approximately 16% of GDP; UK 18% of GDP and USA 14% of GDP. Wirahadikusumah (2019) argues that the construction industry is instrumental in sustainable development via green procurement of construction works.
Experts opine that following the conventional development practice of ‘pollute now, clean up later’, has resulted many environmental disasters. Study of Onat et al. (2014) has pointed out that construction projects consumes huge quantity of non-renewable energy that leads to negative impact on biodiversity and ultimately to the effects on global warming.
Earlier studies by different scholars (Son et al., 2011; Serpell et al., 2013) estimate that worldwide construction sector is responsible for the consumption of 40% of total energy production, 40% of raw materials and 25% of timber; the use of 16% of water; the generation of 30–40% of solid waste and 35–40% of CO2 emissions. Survey of U.S Green Building Council (2009) estimates that buildings contribute to 38.9% of primary energy use, 38% of all carbon dioxide emissions, and 30% of waste output in USA.
Experts argue that the construction industry is to work in a dilemma of balancing the economic sustainability of companies with environmental protection, social and economic well-being of people. Simon et al. (2019) outline that switching from traditional procurement processes to green procurement is not always easy.
In a study, Lam et al. (2009) have identified a number of barriers of green procurement like uncertainty in the durability of green materials, limited knowledge on green technology, unachievable specification requirements, dispute on specification compliance, limited availability and reliability of green suppliers, low flexibility for alternatives or substitutes, limited tools to assess the green performance of a completed building.
According to Robichaud and Anantatmula (2011), architects, engineers, and builders usually tend to deliver services in technical isolation which suffers a holistic view of the project and makes it difficult to manage changes, mitigate risks, and contain costs. Fuentes-Bargues et al. (2017) opine that use of highly generic criteria makes it difficult for the authority to verify that they have complied with the criteria.
Previous research (Saparauskas & Turskis, 2006) estimates that through a careful selection of materials, it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions up to 30 % in the construction projects.
A study by U.S. Green Building Council (2006) estimates that green buildings are expected to increase total building value by about 7.5% whereas decrease operating costs about 8–9%. Studies (Galante & Pasetti, 2012; Simon et al., 2019) have identified that savings of around 25% of residential energy consumption can be achieved by the use of energy efficient materials. Babica and Sceulovs (2019) argue that it is necessary to involve industry experts in the public procurement process to develop the right description of the product.
Governments of different countries have undertaken measures for the development of green public procurement. UK has taken the leading role in encouraging GPP practices through legislation.
The Japanese Government enacted a Green Purchasing Law in May 2000 that obligated all state institutions to buy designated green purchase items from 200 products in 18 categories. USA has enacted Green Building legislation. The government of China has released a large number of laws, policies and regulations to promote sustainable construction. There is legislation in Korea for the promotion of the purchase of environmentally preferable products.
We need to consider that attaining best value for money is one of the main requirements of public expenditure. In a study Grandia et. al (2015) have stressed the need of governments to adapt their purchasing activities to innovations in the market for achieving greater sustainability.
Though green public procurement policy encourages government purchaser to procure green products even if the price is comparatively higher but the legislation requires selection of lowest bid. In a study, Ruparathna and Hewage (2015) have argued that current method of bid evaluation which focus on the initial cost and overlook the life cycle perspective of the project is a main challenge for sustainable procurement.
Babica and Sceulovs (2019) highlight that public procurement institutions lack to consider an overall approach for choosing the most advantageous and sustainable alternative during the selection process.
Needless to say, there are also numerous challenges of calculating the whole life cost sometimes known as total cost of ownership with sufficient accuracy due to a number of assumptions required. Most importantly, the objective estimation can differ from procurer to procurer to such extent that the reliability of the process may be threatened.
Hence, it would also be a challenge to develop a uniform system of calculating the whole life cost. But undoubtedly, we need to come out with a uniform objective calculation method that will be acceptable to the parties concerned with a consensus.
Recent pandemic of COVID 19 demonstrates global public health vulnerability that threatened our vision of sustainability. This unpredictable phenomenon triggers us to think in a 360 degree way of assessing multi-dimensional challenges against achieving sustainable development goals.
Every single step of the stakeholders towards the improvement of environmental effect is significant. Under the circumstances, contribution towards the development of green public procurement is noteworthy for achieving sustainable development. However, choice of environmental consideration must respect the basic requirements of public procurement- transparency, free and fare competition, accountability, and equal treatment.
The writer is a member of Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, UK and presently a Ph.d research fellow.
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