Skip to main content

Public procurement for more sustainable transportation

Friday, October 20, 2023

How can cities with efficient freight transport support climate goals? This was the focus of the annual conference TREFF: Transport Efficiency Day, organized by CLOSER and Northern LEAD. Heini-Marja Suvilehto is a sustainability specialist at the Procurement Authority, and she presented how public procurement is a crucial piece of the puzzle for creating an efficient transportation system.

Heini-Marja Suvilehto presenterar på TREFF

Almost 20 percent of Sweden's GDP is procured publicly, with nearly 20,000 public procurements taking place across the country every year. While there are no specific figures for the proportion of this relating to the transport sector, Heini-Marja Suvilehto believes there is significant potential in examining the transportation generated within public operations.

“Even though the procurement itself is about food, healthcare, or property maintenance, it always means that goods need to be transported. Moreover, the public sector is a good and stable sector to do business with because they always have a need to buy and they always pay.”

Furthermore, the public sector must align with the sustainability goals at a global, national, regional, and municipal level. The transport sector accounts for a significant portion of total emissions, and significant steps need to be taken to achieve the 2030 goals. This means that every publicly procured contract must lead to improvement.

“You can't impose the same requirements across the entire country. For example, it's not possible to electrify all transportation today, but we can use biodiesel or biogas, and we can make all transports more efficient.”

There is a set of criteria for different vehicles. For light trucks, for example, the preference is electric, hydrogen, or biogas, followed by plug-in hybrids and, in exceptional cases, ethanol, HVO, gasoline, and diesel. Regarding freight transport, there are contract conditions that require the supplier to gradually introduce more electric vehicles, for instance.

However, just as it's challenging to impose the same requirements nationwide, it's difficult to apply the same standards to different types of suppliers. Compared to, for example, DHL, which delivers nationwide, it may be easier to set high climate goals for suppliers delivering only within a specific municipality.

“Often the focus is on ensuring that the last mile of the delivery happens with electric or biogas-driven vehicles. That can work in many cases, but if it means the truck has to pass the school it's delivering to, to be reloaded into another vehicle, it becomes inefficient, so you have to adapt the requirements to each case,” says Heini-Marja Suvilehto.

In such cases, calculation models based on the suppliers' carbon emissions can be used, where public entities can commit to paying more for each delivery as suppliers reduce their emissions and vice versa.

Preparation and follow-up are crucial

The principle of public procurement is that it should be an open and transparent process where all suppliers are treated equally. Therefore, good preparation for procurement is essential, according to Heini-Marja Suvilehto. This involves understanding the needs and objectives of the procurement. It also looks at the consideration of climate impact and how it should be measured.

“Since you must treat all European suppliers equally, the climate impact of transportation should not be factored in when, for example, procuring tomatoes, even though there is a significant difference in transporting tomatoes from Spain compared to transporting them from Sweden. In that case, you may need to separate the procurement processes, with the tomatoes on one side and the transportation on the other.”

Last but not least, it is crucial to monitor what is actually delivered and ensure that the set goals are achieved. Both preparation and follow-up are parts of the process that Heini-Marja Suvilehto believes need more time and focus.

“Otherwise, there's a risk that the one who lies the most wins the procurement without having to be accountable for whether the delivery lives up to the promises.”