UK: Green Public Procurement Handbook 2nd Edition

Last Updated: 8 December 2011
Article by Paul Sheridan and Valentina Keys

In November 2011 the European Commission launched its indicative 2nd Edition of the Green Public Procurement (GPP) Handbook entitled "Buying Green!". The Handbook is designed to help public authorities implement GPP and in this regard it is purely voluntary. Mandatory provisions appear in particular pieces of EU legislation and policy, with more mandatory provisions being mooted for the next few years.

The Handbook focuses on four key sectors: built environment, food and catering services, electricity and timber. The range of products and services involved is reasonably large; ranging from paper to electricity, transport and street lighting. Although this Handbook has been produced for public authorities, many of the ideas and approaches are equally relevant for procurement in the corporate world. Clearly suppliers are intended also to benefit from consulting the Handbook. For those who are already very conversant with clean/green/sustainable principles the Handbook will not raise any surprises. Indeed some may take the view that the Handbook lacks ambition but it is nonetheless of value for those who are trying to get to grips with this area.


In the workings of the EU's Environment Technologies Action Plan the following definition was formulated to define green public procurement (GPP):

"GPP is the approach by which Public Authorities integrate environment criteria into all stages of their procurement process, thus encouraging the spread of environmental considerations and the development of environmentally sound products, by seeking and choosing outcomes and solutions that have the least possible impact on the environment throughout their whole life-cycle."

Public authorities in the EU spend the equivalent of approximately 19% of the EU's gross domestic product on the purchase of goods and services. Thus the public sector is an obvious vehicle with which to effect change and some of the most recent legislative and policy instruments coming out of the EU make it clear that the public sector is to be used as a vehicle for the procurement of cleaner, more efficient and sustainable goods and services.

GPP criteria

To assist public contracting authorities in identifying and procuring greener products, services and works, GPP criteria have been developed for 18 product and service groups. These can be directly inserted into tender documents. The list of products which are subject to GPP is to be periodically reviewed and expanded. For the moment this list consists of the following:

Copying and graphic paper

Cleaning products and services

Office IT equipment





Food and catering services


Gardening products and services

Windows, glazed doors and skylights

Hard floor-coverings

Thermal insulation

Wall panels

Combined heat and power (CHP)

Road construction and traffic signs

Street lighting and traffic signals

Mobile phones


The Handbook offers the following recommendations for procurement professionals in respect of approaches that can be adopted to prepare and meet the new and upcoming standards for buildings.

  • Include selection criteria for architects and engineers on experience in sustainable building design, and for contractors in applying appropriate environmental management measures.

  • Specify minimum energy performance standards for the final building at each stage of the procurement process. Consider providing additional points during award of design contracts for performance beyond the minimum.

  • Give preference to designs which incorporate clean energy systems.

  • Restrict the use of hazardous substances in building materials.

  • Encourage the use of sustainably sourced timber and other natural materials, recycled and reused materials and the recyclability of materials at their end-of-life.

  • Give importance to indoor air quality, occupant wellbeing and adequate ventilation.

  • Require the use of water-saving installations and encourage the reuse of grey water and rainwater.

  • Include contract clauses related to waste and resource management and transport of construction materials.

  • Impose on contractors responsibility for monitoring energy performance for several years after construction, and for training users of the building on sustainable energy use

Food and catering services

The negative impacts from a planet perspective relate that are addressed here are the use of harmful chemicals in the production and manufacture of food and food transport miles. The unsustainable use of marine resources and packaging waste are also important considerations. The following recommendations are set out in the Handbook:

  • Specify a minimum percentage of food which must be organically produced.

  • Provide additional points during the award stage for percentages achieved above the minimum requirements where the performance standards are exceeded.

  • Specify minimum percentages and/or award points for the use of fruit and vegetables that are in season, and sustainably harvested marine products.

  • Include contract clauses on minimising food waste and food packaging waste.

  • Apply selection criteria for caterers based on applying appropriate environmental management measures, such as training for staff.


The Handbook makes the following recommendations with regard to electricity:

  • Require electricity (or a proportion of electricity) to be generated from renewable energy sources. Request Guarantee of Origin certificates.

  • Consider including an award criterion for complementary energy saving activities offered by the electricity supplier, such as an energy audit of your existing consumption patterns.

  • Assess the efficiency of electricity generation by requesting information from suppliers and by including minimum efficiency factors into your contract.


The Handbook makes the following recommendations:

  • Require all timber products to be from legal and sustainably managed sources. Proof of compliance may include third party verification through certification schemes such as FSC or PEFC or licensing schemes such as FLEGT. Alternative evidence must also be accepted.

  • Include contract clauses which require the supplier to respect the rights of forest workers and indigenous groups who are responsible for forest management (see UK example below).


In real terms, embedding concepts of clean/green/resource efficiency/sustainability in procurement, whether in the private sector or the public sector is only beginning to take shape. The lack of existing professional experience, contradictory commentary, nervousness of change and resistance to change provide many reasons why procurement practices have changed very little over recent years (save for some notable exceptions). A common message that is often delivered by traditional procurement professionals is that whilst they are open to change, the absence of agreement on applicable criteria is a major impediment. The Handbook should be looked at in this context as it is designed to provide some comfort in this regard.


Many public authorities in Europe practice not only GPP, but SPP - Sustainable Public Procurement - including environmental and social criteria in their purchasing decisions. The readers may find it useful to also consult the "Buying Social: A guide to taking account of social considerations in public procurement" published by the European Commission in 2011. Please click here to view the full text of the SPP Handbook.

Please click here to view the full text of the GPP Handbook.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 02/12/2011.

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