Responsibility for the supply chain affects us all - and therefore also the state itself

In the current legislation, significant changes are pending in the area of sustainability and clothing, which aim to improve the ecological footprint of the textile and clothing industry. In various blog articles, including "The EU's plans in the Green Deal", our team has already reported on this topic in detail. The focus here is on the proposed legislative changes in the context of the circular economy and sustainability.

While legislators are proposing numerous measures to promote the "green" transformation of various industries, including the textile industry, this also raises the question of how the state itself is behaving as a buyer in this regard. This topic was recently the subject of intense public debate in the context of the award of a framework agreement for cars by Bundesbeschaffung GmbH before Christmas.

With this article, I would like to take part in this public discussion and share my thoughts on how the state can assume active responsibility as a purchaser. It is crucial that government institutions not only promote legislation, but also prioritise sustainability and environmental friendliness in their own procurement practices. This article highlights the current developments, challenges and possible solutions related to public procurement in the context of efforts to improve sustainability and environmental protection.

Who is Bundesbeschaffung GmbH?

Bundesbeschaffung GmbH (BBG) was established in July 1997. It was founded during the term of office of the then Federal Chancellor Viktor Klima. The company is wholly owned by the Republic of Austria, represented by the Federal Ministry of Finance. The BBG was founded to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of public procurement for the federal administration. The aim was to create a centralised body responsible for the procurement of goods and services for various ministries and federal government institutions. By bundling purchasing activities and utilising synergies, the BBG should achieve savings and improve the quality of procurements.

This procurement process was hotly debated

The BBG has concluded a framework agreement for the procurement of passenger cars. One of the five contractual partners is an Austrian company that acts as an importer for the Chinese car brand BYD. The awarding of this contract has led to considerable public discussion, with both criticism of the procurement and official statements from Bundesbeschaffung GmbH (BBG) being published.

I have, of course, not only followed the criticism of the procurement, but also read the BBG's statements carefully. In view of the public debate and the questions that have arisen, it goes without saying that I assume that the ladies and gentlemen responsible at the BBG have also fully and unequivocally complied with the existing legislation in this procurement.

What significance do environmental aspects have in procurement processes?

While it is undoubtedly important to ensure that BBG has complied with existing legislation, there is also the question of whether its actions are in line with the principles of environmental friendliness and the sustainable development of our planet. Especially at a time when increased efforts are being made globally to reduce environmental impacts and promote more sustainable practices, it is crucial that government procurement is not only legally compliant but also environmentally sound.

There are a number of questions that should be asked in this context and, in my view, should also be disclosed:

Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Have distances from production sites to the regions of use been taken into account in the tender?
  • Were transport routes across several stages of the supply chain disclosed, reviewed and assessed?
  • Were take-back systems and possible recycling scenarios part of the tender? Have these scenarios been reviewed or do the communicated solutions, technologies and logistics systems already exist?
  • Have the energy requirements in the manufacturing process been recorded and evaluated? Were the energy sources used for production assessed?
  • Was the use of chemicals and other raw materials analysed, assessed and evaluated?
  • Have issues of fair remuneration been scrutinised and assessed according to the "living wage" approach?
  • Were waste concepts surveyed and questioned?
  • How were the longevity and expected service requirements as well as value retention included in the calculation of the expected operating costs?
  • Were the participating companies required to submit a complete carbon footprint of the entire manufacturing process, drawn up by an independent third party? Additional assessment points could have been awarded for this in the overall assessment.
  • Was a verifiable minimum approach to the recycled content of the ordered product requested and assessed?

Or was only basic data such as eligibility for approval, dimensions, weight specifications, performance and values such as the expected range in operation and other technical data collected?

What role does the "NABE", the action plan for sustainable public procurement, play?

Under the slogan "The public sector shows the way" and currently financed by the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology, the federal government under Werner Faymann launched the "NABE", the action plan for sustainable public procurement, in July 2010. The sustainable procurement criteria for a wide range of procurement areas, including vehicles and textiles, can be found on the website of this initiative. When looking at these criteria, it becomes clear that there is a lot of catching up to do in terms of sustainable procurement targets and that criteria such as recyclability or recycled content are completely missing for both vehicles and textiles.

The question also arises as to the extent to which the requirements and guidelines of the "NABE" are actually used in the conception and organisation of public procurement processes. This question does not only apply to procurements carried out by the BBG. The large number of procurement processes carried out directly by ministries, federal states and municipalities should also at least comply with the criteria specified by "NABE".

What does genuine interest in sustainable development look like?

If the state is really interested in taking its own sustainability and environmental targets seriously, it will have to deal with precisely these issues, and probably many more, in the future. The recent discussion surrounding the procurement of vehicles by Bundesbeschaffung GmbH (BBG) not only sheds light on legal compliance, but also on the ecological responsibility of state institutions.

Including environmental aspects and ecological criteria in the procurement process will therefore be crucial to ensure that government resources are not only used efficiently, but also in the best interests of people and the environment.


Claus Bretschneider