Environmental and climate work requires cooperation across administrative boundaries

For a long time now, ambitious policy objectives have been set for public procurement, but systematically utilising procurement to achieve the objectives has been surprisingly difficult. Why is the task so challenging and what could be done about it? The National Audit Office of Finland offered some answers to these questions in connection with its audits of environmentally friendly public procurement that were completed early this year.

One of the strategic objectives set out in the Programme of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s Government (titled Finland, a land of solutions, 2015) was to make Finland a trailblazer in bioeconomy, circular economy and cleantech. The plan is to use public procurement to promote the achievement of the cleantech objectives by creating demand for new, environmentally friendly cleantech solutions. No major references or pilot markets based on cleantech procurement that would promote export have been created so far, however.

Promotion of shared objectives is difficult

The promotion of cleantech procurement in Finnish public administration is difficult. At the central government level, the responsibility for the development of environmentally friendly procurement activities has been divided between a number of ministries. Furthermore, Finnish public administration is clearly divided into central government and regional authorities. The municipalities handle the majority of cleantech procurement.

Even though there is cooperation between central government and the regional authorities, getting the shared national objectives across in the municipalities is difficult. Hence, strong cooperation across administrative boundaries both within central government and between central government and the municipalities is required.

Cleantech procurement is a key tool in the achievement of objectives related to climate and the environment. Public procurement and environmental policy objectives are interlinked. Hence, these issues should be studied together. Similar challenges as in the development of public procurement operations have been faced in the promotion of environmental policy objectives in Finnish public administration.

Sweden could be used as a model

Commitment of Finnish public administration to the shared objectives and operating methods should be strengthened. We could use our neighbouring country Sweden as a model when developing the administrative sector. Sweden has used a system of environmental quality objectives (in Swedish, “miljömålsystem”) since the 1990s. The system is based on concrete long-term objectives, highly advanced monitoring of the achievement of the objectives and strong cooperation across administrative boundaries.

In Sweden, the responsibility for the monitoring of the environmental quality objectives has been divided among several authorities; each authority is responsible for the objectives falling within the sphere of its monitoring responsibility. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket) coordinates the monitoring operations as a whole. Achievement of the objectives is regularly assessed.

In addition, the Swedish Government has set up a separate committee (miljömålsrådet) to annually propose measures for achievement of the environmental objectives. In addition to central government, municipalities are highly committed to the achievement of the environmental objectives.

Furthermore, a national public procurement strategy where seven policy goals were set for procurement operations was implemented in Sweden in 2016. One of the goals was promotion of environmentally friendly public procurement to support bioeconomy, circular economy and the achievement of the environmental objectives. The National Agency for Public Procurement (Upphandlingsmyndigheten) is responsible for the realisation of the Swedish public procurement strategy.

Cooperation is necessary, competence must be developed

Finnish public administration could learn from the strategic public procurement and environmental objective operating models used in Sweden. The environmental objective system could also be used to assist the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) to which Finland is committed.

Mere development of the public procurement strategies and environmental objectives is not enough, however. Cooperation between parties active in the administrative sector, division of responsibility, systematic monitoring of the achievement of the objectives and development of competence are also needed.

An interesting reform carried out in Finland is the Competence Centre for Sustainable and Innovative Public Procurement (KEINO), which was launched in the spring of 2018. It could offer one way of systematically developing Finnish public procurement operations.