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Fit for the Future: Is public procurement the key to a more sustainable and circular society?

Accounting for 18% of Sweden's GDP, public procurement can play an important role in achieving a more sustainable and circular society. On July 4, Misum affiliated researcher Margo Enthoven joined Mistra and Mistra REES at Almedalen 2022 to co-host a panel discussion on challenges and opportunities for circular public procurement.

There is great potential and, given the sheer size of the sector, a need, for public procurement to align more closely with circular economy principles. Yet there are also many challenges in the system that slow down this transition that need to be addressed. Margo Enthoven, postdoc at Misum and Sarah Jack, Misum Research Platform Director, together with the team at Mistra REES, have been working on a research project that looks precisely at the challenges of moving public procurement towards circularity. The research team investigates how circular business models and circular procurement models are co-developed between public and private sector organizations.

Looking specifically at the market for work clothing in Sweden, the researchers find significant challenges of legal, communication, and sustainability knowledge nature. Public procurement legislation and practice are designed to create a distance between public and private organizations, which prevents knowledge exchange. To open up for innovative sustainable solutions, it is crucial that public and private organizations bridge this distance and find ways to collaborate in the creation and buying of circular solutions.

Together with Mattias Lindahl from Mistra REES, Margo Enthoven joined the Mistra afternoon at Almedalen to present highlights from their research project. They were joined by key societal actors and experts on public procurement for a panel discussion on challenges and possible solutions for circular public procurement:

  • Ida Karkiainen, Minister for Public Administration, Government of Sweden
  • Inger Ek, ​​Director General, The National Agency for Public Procurement
  • Martin Kruse, Chairman, The Swedish Association of Public Purchasers (SOI)

Key takeaways from the panelists on opportunities for more circularity:

  • Public procurement is part of a larger system and one of the environments where politics and the market meet. It is important to coordinate public procurement with other policy.
  • Leadership in organizations must think about strategies and goals in collaboration with procurers and others within the organization who have knowledge about public procurement and sustainability.
  • We need new knowledge in the public procurement process to be able to procure for the circular economy. But procurers do not need to reinvent the wheel all by themselves. Knowledge is often already present in the team, the organization, and the market. That’s why it is often increased collaboration and communication that are necessary for circular public procurement.

Watch the seminar recording to follow the entire conversation (in Swedish) or read the seminar summary put together by our colleagues at Mistra.