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Sustainable Procurement Plan 2021-2024 from the Province of Zeeland: Using the Sustainable Development Goals as a compass

Case study of the Province of Zeeland, Netherlands


The Province of Zeeland is the most western province of the Netherlands with around 386,000 inhabitants. The Province of Zeeland has been actively engaged in sustainable procurement (SP) since 2012 and in 2017 signed the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management’s Manifesto for Socially Responsible Procurement 2016- 2020. This manifesto committed signatories to draw up concrete action plans and monitor the results achieved. Subsequently, the Province of Zeeland adopted its first Sustainable Procurement (SP) action plan in 2017. The targets from the period 2017-2020 were met above expectations.

Following the success of its first SP action plan, Harry van der Maas, deputy commissioner for procurement, has set the bar higher for the 2021-2024 Plan. The Sustainable Procurement Plan 2021-2024 was adopted by the Zeeland Provincial Executive Board in April 2021. The Zeeland Provincial Executive wants to use its purchasing power (on average €60 - €90 million per year) to contribute to its sustainability policy ambitions.

The Province of Zeeland sees a stronger role for itself in the coming years in ensuring sustainable procurement across all its tenders. In order to communicate the progress made in socially responsible procurement, the Province of Zeeland has entered into a partnership with the Sustainable Procurement Platform as a launching customer. The SP Platform connects professional buyers with sustainable solutions with the aim to empower all who want to buy the change. It is part of KOVWA, a Dutch start-up founded in 2017.

In anticipation of the new Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management’s SP Manifesto 2022-2025, which has been postponed for a year, the Province of Zeeland has chosen to use Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as one of the fundamental principles of the SP Plan 2021-2024. The 17 SDGs are a universal language spoken by governments, policy makers and businesses and cover the three economic, socio-political and environmental dimensions to achieve sustainable development by 2030. Thanks to the specific SDG targets and their corresponding indicators, it is straightforward to measure and monitor progress towards each target. The Province of Zeeland has committed to contribute to the SDGs targets through each procurement during the period 2021-2024 and share its information via the Sustainable Procurement Platform.

Development of approach

SDG Dialogues to identify SDG opportunities and risks

During SDG dialogues organised together with other local municipalities, market stakeholders and knowledge centres, the Province of Zeeland selected the procurement categories they wanted to assess using the SDG as compass. Besides the usual procurement categories, some products were also selected because of known poor labour conditions in their supply chain (coffee, clothing). The selected procurement categories and products are: building, retail, catering, coffee, events, cleaning, clothing, civil engineering, technical installations, data centres/servers, nature conservation projects, insurances, mobility, bicycle footbridge, bicycle tracks.

Each procurement category or product is then linked to the 17 SDGs by mapping risks and opportunities across the entire supply chain for each SDG, based on current procurement practices (SDG 16 is not included in the matrix, as the promotion of peaceful society is of relevance to all procurement categories). A risk matrix and an opportunity matrix were created. The risk matrix maps the negative impacts while the opportunity matrix maps the positive impact along the supply chain of the procurement categories or product for each SDG. Negative impact on one or more SDGs can be caused by the activities of suppliers across the entire supply chains, but also during the execution of a job, while providing a service or during the use and/or end-of-life of products. The CSR Risk Check tool MVOrisicochecker complements the analysis by enabling an insight into the potential environmental and social risks for given products and given countries of origin. This CRS risk analysis is relevant for SDG 1 (end poverty in all its forms everywhere). The risks and opportunities matrix will be regularly updated based on learning experiences and dialogues throughout the four years of the SP plan.

Define ambition per procurement

The relevant policy goals are assigned to the corresponding SDGs. Policy goals are taken from agreements endorsed by Province Zeeland such as Clean Air Agreement, Regional Energy Strategy, Green Deal, Diversity Charter. Goals are also taken from policy strategies such as the Economic agenda, the Environmental and Planning Vision, Vision on Nature 2017-2022, Environment Programme of the Province of Zeeland 2018-2022, Climate adaptation approach Zeeland, Liveability Agenda, Smart mobility, Broad Prosperity Monitor & SDGs by the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS), Delta Plan for Restoring Biodiversity. The policy goal matrix is then combined with the risk and opportunity matrix to assign the policy goals to each procurement category.

Optimise supply chains

During the SDG dialogues, the power of optimising supply chains emerged as an important way of speeding up the move towards a sustainable and inclusive economy because it contributes to building new business models, reducing intermediaries along the supply chain and increasing transparency along the supply chain. Focusing on opportunities for sustainable public procurement with small purchase orders (up to €50,000), the measures included in the plan consist of strengthening citizen initiatives, entering into dialogue with local communities, enhancing the use of local reclaimed materials, learning about solutions by SMEs and creating space for innovation. They do not entail discrimination against bidders based on geographical location or size, but rather focus on ‘levelling the playing field’.

Working together

The sooner the conversation starts, the better. The SP Plan also includes measures on increasing cooperation between policy makers, budget coordinators, procurement advisors, internal purchasers and other key actors. They have a shared responsibility in identifying the relevant opportunities and risks and in contributing to social impact.

In order to secure success of the SP Plan, three change makers have been appointed. Their purpose is to drive change by communicating and providing insights. The change makers are trained by experts from the SP Platform and exchange knowledge with change makers from other organisations. The tasks of the change makers are the following:

• Ensuring communication, knowledge sharing and network development by playing the SDG game (a card game for awareness and generating new ideas) and facilitating SDG dialogues within the given organisation (conversations about how to make SDG impact);

• Providing practical tools and instruments;

• Supporting projects through dialogues with the market and experimentation space for innovation;

• Giving early advice on how to include impact in the calls for tender;

• Managing and monitoring impact on the dashboard.

Three levels of ambition per procurement project

Three levels of ambition were defined:

• Level 1 (‘fundamental’ level) allows socially responsible tender requirements to be set quickly and easily. These requirements mean that products, services and works that do not contribute to sustainability stand less chance of being awarded the contract and can be excluded, if the requirements are integrated in the tender as technical specification.

• At level 2 (‘significant’ level), stricter requirements are formulated and the market can be challenged to deliver higher sustainability performance via award criteria. The process is more extensive, as an assessment of the various bids must take place. The project manager defines and describes how the award criteria will be assessed.

• Level 3 (‘ambitious’ level) goes even further in ambition than level 2. More involvement of purchasers and budget holders in the tendering process and in the execution of the contract is expected than at level 2. For example, a SDG strategy document will be drawn up and more ‘experimental’ and functional criteria will be used. Often new solutions and/or innovation are needed to minimise the negative burden or maximise the positive contribution.

For each SDG, three corresponding levels of ambition are formulated. For example, for SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) the three ambition levels are:

• Level 1: minimize waste

• Level 2: reuse, renewable, measure reusability

• Level 3: biobased pilots, living labs, LCA entire chain.

The ambition levels for the other SDGs are available on the Sustainable Procurement 2021-2024 dashboard. All tenders must meet at least level 1. Each year at least three tenders are selected to which Level 3 applies.

Updating the action plan

The SDG dialogues are held yearly, jointly with internal and external parties (other local governments, construction companies, equipment suppliers, service organisations, students, policy makers etc.) and information is shared on the Sustainable Procurement Platform. Annual surveys are conducted to identify learning and development needs for sustainable procurement and annual reporting is done to the board of provincial executives.

Implementation of approach

SDG Purchasing Compass method

In the Sustainable Procurement Plan 2021-2024, the SDG Purchasing Compass method is referred to as the method to put the SDG theory into practice. It is one of the instruments developed by the Sustainable Procurement Platform to help professional buyers and was launched in April 2021. It connects information from various sources and databases that are important for sustainable procurement. It also provides information on the area of relevance for the procurement project, thanks to geographic information system mapping. The SDG procurement compass method guides professional buyers in 5 steps:

1.Step 1: Understand how you can contribute to the SDGs via your procurement;

2.Step 2: Define your ambition based on value chain impact and local opportunities;

3.Step 3: Select SDG targets and indicators and formulate corresponding tender requirements to achieve the ambition set;

4.Step 4: Report on expected impact and communicate SDG impact on the platform;

5.Step 5: Measure realised impacts and identify learnings.

The implementation of the SDG compass method started in 2021 and was tested by 3 projects to pilot how the information from the SDG compass could support the dialogues.

Kappellebrug procurement project

Construction works are the biggest volume of spend and materials for the Province of Zeeland, and are one of the key procurement categories, where the SDG compass method is applied. The “Kapellebrug” procurement project consists of a renovation of the road N290 “Gentsevaart” that goes through the village of Kapellebrug in the south part of the Province of Zeeland, very close to the Belgian border. The road has reached the end of its life span and needs to be renovated. This offers opportunities for a redesign that increases safety for cars, pedestrians and cyclists, while maintaining the same traffic flow. Furthermore, the renovation offers opportunities for a contribution to sustainability and climate adaptation.

To gain insight into the sustainable contribution of the Kapellebrug project, two SDG dialogues were held to formulate the project’s ambition level and assess its contribution to the SDGs.

The first session was about the identification of the relevant SDGs and ways to contribute to the SDGs. In the second session they identified the SDG targets and SDG indicators to measure ambition. Thanks to the risk and opportunity matrix, the policy goal matrix and the already defined three ambition levels for each SDG, it is quite straightforward to identify at an early stage of the tender the relevant SDGs and their corresponding ambition levels.

The goal of the first session was to choose the ambition level for each SDG. The following stakeholders participated in the first session: the project leader, a procurement advisor, municipality actors, environmental policy experts from the Province of Zeeland, a civil engineer, a road infrastructure maintenance specialist, stakeholder manager, and a drinking water company. Before starting the session, it was verified that all stakeholders had visited the road and knew the area around it. It took a day to prepare the session and the session lasted two hours. It was organised online due to the pandemic situation. A whiteboard tool was used to recreate a brainstorming atmosphere. Information shared on the whiteboard was made accessible throughout the procurement process.

An ambition level 1 was chosen for SDG 3 and SDG 13. Requirements will be integrated in the call for tenders, because it will directly impact the planning and design of the construction works. The requirements at level 1 are the following:

• SDG 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages) and target SDG 3.6 (By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents): improve traffic safety for cyclists and pedestrians with traffic calming measures in the design such as speed bumps, chicane and dedicated bicycle lanes with different colored pavements. Road authorities (incl. Belgian road authorities), users, residents and companies will be informed about the usefulness and necessity of the measures to increase safety.

• SDG 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact) and target SDG 13.2 (Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning): improve drainage and sewage system. Due to intense rainfalls in the region and to prevent flooding, sewage water will be decoupled from rain water.

They set an ambition level 2 for SDG 3 and SDG 12 with the corresponding SDG indicator: • SDG 3 and target SDG 3.9 (By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination): challenge the market to select and use materials that contribute to reducing road noise. • SDG 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns) and target SDG 12.2 (By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources): Challenge the market to reduce CO2 emissions during execution by using zero-emission equipment as much as possible and by using reclaimed materials where possible. An award criterion will be formulated using the Environmental Cost Indicator (ECI). The ECI helps in estimating the environmental shadow price by aggregating all relevant environmental impacts into a single score of environmental shadow costs. Bidders will estimate the ECI and will include it in their tender.

An ambition level 3 was set to SDG7 and SDG 13 with the corresponding requirements:

• SDG 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all) and target SDG 7.2 (By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix): they identify the need for renewable energy generation and charging stations to make sure the electricity network is ready for the future.

• SDG 13 and target SDG 13.2 (Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning): together with the subsidy coordinator for green roofs and green facades, the subsidy scheme will be advertised to local residents. Greenery not only provides water buffering, but also helps against heat stress.

The aim is also to contribute to SDG 17 (Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development) and the target SDG 17.17 (Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships). The selected SDG targets and indicators are summarised in a strategy document for the procurement department, which is in charge of integrating the requirements in the tender. The above-mentioned SDG targets and indicators will be integrated as tender requirements to assess the way a bidder will contribute to the specific targets. The tender is not yet published and will be published by the end of 2022 or in the first half of 2023.

Approach outcomes

The outcome of the approach is to contribute to the SDGs and their corresponding targets. The approach is an innovative approach and was awarded the Procura+ Awards 2021 for the Procurement initiative of the year. They do not have a standard guideline for assessing positive impacts yet but they calculated the avoided CO2 emissions if zero emission measures are implemented. Together with the Province of Zeeland, the Sustainable Procurement platform is currently developing standardised metrics to calculate the avoided carbon emissions and avoided virgin materials based on available standards and norms. This will be discussed with European stakeholders in Autumn 2022.

Lessons learned

• There is a need to re-organise the procurement process and to enhance the collaboration across internal departments. The SDG Purchasing Compass method is the correct answer to address these needs.

• People are proud to show and share that they are contributing to the SDGs. They are also surprised about the range of opportunities and possibilities that are covered by the SDGs.

• Different stakeholders have similar ambitions and plans. Working together and joining forces will accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. For the next procurement project on the development of a neighbourhood within a city, neighbours will be invited to participate and contribute to the selection of SDG targets.

More information

For related information, please see the Sustainable Procurement Platform.