Can GPP indeed represent the lever to unhinge the rigidity of the “production-consumption-discard” model characteristic of a linear economy in order to bend it towards a circular one? It would seem so, especially if we look at the excellent GPP practices adopted in some European countries and the results they obtained for the environment and local economies.

The usefulness of GPP (Green Public Procurement) for the new desired model lies in the complex and structural reasons, of which the most intelligible is the widespread use of renewed materials, derived from waste recycling, which GPP hopes for and sometimes (for example in Italy) forces onto public administrations.

Indeed, if we go through European environmental criteria, one of the most widespread ones is the tendency to opt for materials and products with a minimal content of recycled materials. True, GPP’s expectations are much broader, and perhaps despite its large adherence towards such type of “renewed” materials it does not make justice to its great environmental value, if we consider it from a structural viewpoint: suffice it to think about the impact of energy efficiency for energy-saving devices or the limitations on the use of harmful substances in products, with an influence on soil, air and food safety for the food that we eat. For public areas, parks, schools, administration offices, hospitals, etc.

If we also consider good practices in Europe it is easy to see how these have made innovations possible in whole sectors, forcing suppliers to adopt specific environmental techniques, monitoring their application and verifying over time the effects on the ecosystem and the local area. So, a “virtuous circularity” of actions is started by both those companies deciding to orient their production towards eco-sustainability of products and services they offer and citizens-consumers, who emulate those actions in their consumption models compared to what has been implemented by consumer-public administration.

Italy is the only European country to have gone so far as to introduce mandatory GPP for all contracting authorities, which must apply CAM (Criteri Ambientali Minini, “minimal environmental criteria”) released by the Ministry for the Environment. Yet, both at Italian and European level, even going back some years, in some instances, GPP has been applied on a voluntary basis.

In this framework, we are going to analyse some GPP cases applied to a complex and diversified sector with various implications (environmental, economic and social), i.e. that of caring for public green spaces. Such sector offers a wide range of possible sustainable actions from an environmental point of view, going beyond the need to implement “resource circularity” (for instance of vegetable waste and water), involving some aspects regarding correct waste management, the use of potentially harmful substances, soil and air pollution and biodiversity care.

We will start with two concrete successful cases for European GPP which were noted by the European Commission, so they can be regarded as models for similar applications: those implemented by the municipalities of Barcelona in Spain and Lille in France. The scope of their application, resources used, measures introduced and benefits achieved are monitored.

Then, there are two recent pieces of good news from Italy.


In Barcelona, a Quintessential Park Management

The Barcelona metropolitan area published a public procurement with an open procedure for the maintenance of parks in the whole area, which includes 36 municipalities, with a total surface of over 2 million square metres. The required services are gardening and maintenance of street furniture, pavements, structures and buildings placed within the area. The value of the procurement is about €41 million in six years, spanning from 2014 to 2020.

With public procurement the environmental criteria on all phases of the service, not just waste management, but also for the use of sustainable products [...] and for the use of resources, have been imposed, which must be aimed at maximum efficiency. As for cuts in noise and air emissions, requirements for the use of vehicles and gardening equipment have been imposed.

Moreover, the service, envisages particular care during the inspection phases by the contractor, monitoring of the performance by the administration, reporting of generated environmental effects and their communication.

As to waste management, specific requirements have been set for every fraction of waste produced (for example pruning, foliage, grass, muds), for their correct separate collection and in situ reuse as compost, fertilizer or for backfilling operations. The use of plastic bags is always prohibited.

Only environmentally sustainable products are allowed, specific criteria have been established especially for those harmful to the environment and health (paints, detergents, pesticides etc.) and for packaging. First and foremost, all-around GPP: in the public procurement contractors are required to buy green products, eco-friendly products with known ecological quality labels (for example Ecolabel).

Contractors are also asked to use low-toxicity products, avoiding irritants, corrosives and products that may generate greenhouse gases and/or contain other dangerous components.

The use of products classified as very toxic, toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic or that may interfere with the reproduction or that pose a threat of very serious irreversible effects after prolonged exposure is prohibited. Lubricants too are subject to specific requirements: for motor vehicles, the use of oils with at least 20% of regenerated base is mandatory. If vehicles are used outdoors, oils must be biodegradable.

And particular attention is devoted to efficient use of energy and resources. Energy saving measures have also been put in place (for example with extensive use of LED), as well as water cuts, where widespread use of water economisers and monitoring systems for leaks are required.

In order to cut waste production, the use and impact of materials must be minimal: wherever possible, in canteens it would be better to use organic and biodegradable products; work uniforms should preferably contain natural and/or recycled fibres. Contractors will have to promote the use of eco-labelled products (reliable and approved) and implement a policy for the respect of fundamental rights of workers.

Of course, any form of pollution should be kept to a minimum: emissions, dust and noise. To this end, detailed requirements are specified with regard to the use of vehicles, machinery and equipment: documentation that the vehicle must have, periodical checks and maintenance. Not only that, there are more precise indications. A few examples: engines must be kept on only for the time necessary to carry out the relevant operation and then switched off if not used for over five minutes; vehicles must be driven without sudden acceleration and at a reduced speed; in the case of wind, the use of materials that may generate dust should be avoided.

And what happens once the technical specifications of every phase of the service are set out?

The administration acknowledges the importance of constantly monitoring the contract, in order to verify its correct application and in order to single out more green criteria that may be added for the next procurement.

Every aspect of a contractor’s performance is carefully monitored and assessed on a monthly basis, through a kind of analysis determining the qualitative index (QI) taking into account every aspect of the service and associating it with its weight. For example: QI= 35% gardening + 15% furniture + 10% pavements + 15% services + 20% buildings + 5% service company.

If the result of the analysis determines a value lower than the minimum threshold set by the administration, the quality level is unacceptable or critical, resulting in the application of a penalty, according to the seriousness and type of discrepancy.


Good GPP Practices with CAP

The good news is that in Italy a lot is being done with regard to GPP, in the wake of the mandate contained in Codice Appalti (public procurement code). The initiatives include the experience carried out by Cap Holding – managing the water system of the Milan area’s municipalities, particularly sensitive to all-around environmental sustainability policies – that last July conducted a field experiment, together with other associated municipalities (Abbiategrasso, Cesano Boscone, Cornaredo, Gorgonzola, Inveruno, Ossona, Segrate, Vanzago). In practice, people have been explained the rules and regulations and how to implement GPP, starting from a direct investigation of specific needs of the municipality, offering guidelines on how to integrate environmental requirements to some of the procedures of the expiring public procurements. The experiment reached a model of a set of practical tools, collected in a handbook that can be useful for the implementation of similar cases. The Project, carried out with the support of Remade in Italy, is called “Cap for a new GPP”.


Lille, Hellemmes and Lomme: Public Procurement for Looking after Biodiversity

Already in 2001, the city of Lille, with an Action Plan for sustainable development within Agenda 21, introduced global objectives to promote biodiversity, reduce pollution, limit the use of pesticides and chemical products. Such regulations have been transferred in 2012 to the documents of the public procurement about the maintenance of Lille’s green spaces and nearby communities of Hellemmes and Lomme.

The administration was not excessively demanding when they required participating companies to own an environmental management system, thinking that this could have discouraged them, shying them away from the procurement’s objective, which was to put into practice specific aspects of environmental sustainability and improve them throughout the contract.

Amongst the introduced environmental criteria, particular attention has been devoted to all aspects of the conservation of characteristics peculiar to the local area and care for biodiversity. With regard to the latter, bidders are required in-depth knowledge of the local area and its fauna, so as to preserve the best conditions for their conservation. To that end, for example, the implementation of the service envisages that natural corridors amongst habitats are created, so that animal movements are not hindered, and specific areas suitable as exclusive zones for some specimens are singled out so as to create suitable habitats, and deadwood heaps surrounded or covered by debris must be left in place.

With regard to livestock and grazing, it is mandated that specific measures to keep biodiversity and the group health (for example by mingling “old” breeds that have adapted to various diseases with different breeds) be taken. Moreover a buffer area with a water basin must be created, in order to guarantee the biodiversity of the species inhabiting it.

As for waste management, the public procurement’s procedure promotes a wider use of pruning and mowing products as compost and mulching to protect fields from solar radiation and erosion. Not only that: mulching and other materials used must be traceable and socially responsible.

Amongst the various environmental techniques particular rewarding points will be assigned in the case of advanced practices for land management and care for both vegetable and animal species including:

  • census and monitoring of the origin of plants;
  • introduction of sustainable methods for grass mowing, minimizing disturbance to animals;
  • correct management of invasive vegetable species with non harmful products;
  • reduction to a minimum of noise pollution due machinery use;
  • use of alternative fuels;
  • use of biodegradable oils coming from regeneration;
  • public awareness campaigns and communication activities to citizens, aimed at describing the biodiversity present in their local area and the importance of its conservation;
  • introduction of monitoring systems and reduction of water consumption and, whenever possible, its reuse for irrigation.

Through the introduction of such measures and constant monitoring of their application, a considerable number of potentially harmful environmental impacts associated to keeping green areas have been mitigated during the implementation of the service, particularly soil and water pollution caused by pesticides. In this regard, according to the government procurements the use of pesticides in all green areas of the municipality of Lille is expected to be phased out.

Strong attention to biodiversity has led Lille to become France’s capital of biodiversity in 2012. According to local administrators, an important factor contributing to the success of this procurement was market knowledge, allowing a suitable subdivision of the service. The municipality believed in the effectiveness of leading by example: the spread of GPP practices – both for services carried out by the public administration and for those provided by outside companies – raises awareness towards citizens and users. 



Top Image: Wurmkos, Vestimi #2, performance.Paduli Green belt, San Cassiano, Lecce, 2015