Blog by EPEA: Demand driven change; sustainable procurement and Cradle to Cradle

By: Hein van Tuijl (EPEA Nederland)

The Dutch government annually spends around 60 billion Euro on goods and services. (for more information: click here) The Dutch government annually spends around 60 billion Euro on goods and services. This major consumer has the potential to fundamentally impact sustainable economic growth by asking for the right products. 

Despite good intentions, the question is often unfortunately not made clear enough. Practice tells us that this often leads to creative interpretation in the market and a proliferation of  ´sustainable’ claims and certificates. Organizations with the most talented marketeer or simply the cheapest offer often get the job; without any real implementation of sustainability or circularity in the offered goods or services. Consequently, the pressure is on companies – both `circular leaders’ as `followers’ – to create a strong lobby in order to win important public tenders. This situation creates a number of undesirable side effects. For instance, companies must now deploy resources to maximize benefits from unclear requirements; resources that could be used for product and process innovation and optimization instead. Smaller organizations can simply not keep up. A shame, since these companies are often more easily able to implement circular business models than larger organizations. Also, they rely on innovation for distinction in their market.

EPEA has been working for a long time with numerous diverse organizations on product- and services optimization and innovation based on Cradle to Cradle. Among the most apparent results from these cooperations are products that enter the marketplace with a Cradle to Cradle certificate. Recently, BB Lightconcepts received a C2C Bronze certificate on their BB LED Lightpipe. The certificate follows a long cooperation in which the company optimized their complete product ánd their production process along C2C criteria. (For more information: click here)
Other companies such as Excluton (concrete pavement), QbiQ (wall systems) and TGM (facade systems) also entered the market recently with C2C products.
All of these products meet the strict criteria of the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products program.
Monitored by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the program requires step by step progress on five product and production process related criteria:

Material Health (toxicity of materials)
Material Reutilization (recycling)
Renewable Energy & Carbon Management
Water Stewardship
Social Fairness

The C2C PII awards Cradle to Cradle certificates from Basic until Platinum level based on reports by accredited assessment bodies. The method is clear, measurable and publicly available, click here

Despite this transparency, a strict requirement for Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products may still conflict (European) procurement law. The organisations behind the concept are putting in their efforts to turn this situation. (Notable recent victories have been the inclusion of C2C CertifiedTM in BREAAM-NL as well as LEED V4)
Meanwhile, the important message is that we don’t have to wait until complex legislation finally follows suit. Cradle to Cradle criteria are clearly defined and can be directly included in procurement requirements, for instance:

  • Are the materials in your products defined to 100ppm and were they subjected to an independent examination on human- and environmental health?
  • Can the product be disassembled and are the materials reusable or recyclable at the same level of quality or higher?
  • What is the defined use period of the product and is there a reverse logistics/recycling mechanism set up?
  • Does the company have a publicly available roadmap that defines short-, medium- and long-term sustainability goals?

Some years ago, RVO (AgentschapNL at the time) after consultation with EPEA, published a set of tools to support developing ‘circular’ procurement criteria based on Cradle to Cradle. They are included below as reference.
In recent years, several success stories have been realized, showing that clear demands lead to clear actions in the market. You can find some success stories on this very website!
EPEA and C2C ExpoLAB provide support in asking the right questions ánd checking market claims.

In Cradle to Cradle and the circular economy, purchasers become change agents, allowing companies to make incremental steps to improvement by asking the right questions and providing the right incentive.

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