Chapter 12.1 Public sector

Establish circular public procurement practices

Require circular economy and climate obligations in procurement strategies for public bodies to help re-use choices become more mainstream within the public sector and help circular enterprises grow and expand, as well as contributing to the Just Transition.

UK Govt
Scottish Govt
Local Authorities
Emissions reduction
Behaviour change

It is essential for public bodies to take responsibility for the emissions they generate, even indirectly through their purchasing. Positively, East Renfrewshire Council recently included their scope 3 emissions – the wider impact of the Council’s activities, particularly from the goods and services purchased281 – in their annual climate change reporting under the public body duty in the 2009 Climate Act. They found that this tripled the emissions for which they took responsibility.282

Scottish Government monitoring283 shows that the public sector in Scotland spent £13.3bn in 2019- 2020 on goods and services, with the largest spend within Scotland, of £2.3bn, going to construction. 66% of this spend was by local authorities, 18% by central government and 11% by the NHS. 67% of public bodies provided evidence in their annual procurement reports that their regulated procurements have been carried out “with regard to” environmental wellbeing and climate change.

Whilst sustainability is a factor for consideration in public procurement, emphasis on sustainability has not yet been adequate to drive significant levels of mainstream circular purchasing. A shift to more circular procurement would have significant environmental and social benefits.

There should be an ongoing review of public procurement practices to prioritise the principles of circularity. There should also be support for circular organisations to be better represented in bidding for and winning public tenders for example through a circular accreditation scheme which is then prioritised in procurement. A good example is in Spain where a new law mandates that 50% of public tenders relating to the collection, transport and treatment of second-hand products go to social enterprises.284

In addition, public procurement should be used to foster a Just Transition through purchasing goods and services from enterprises that are low carbon and sustainable, offer local social benefits and good workforce practice. There is also the possibility of diversifying supply chains to use businesses belonging to marginalised groups.

There should also be a requirement for public bodies to have to report their circular and social purchases and set targets to grow this spending.

For further information:

Version 1.0: September 2023

The contents of this document will be updated on a regular basis.