At the beginning of 2014 the EU Parliament adopted a new public procurement directive, making it easier for purchasing contracts – including those for IT products – to include requirements for social and environmental responsibility. One of the directive’s goals is to make it easier for public entities to work toward societal goals such as national and international climate and environmental targets. Due to national differences in legislative processes, each member state will determine how to implement the directive by 2016, which is the deadline set for the directive to be in place.

With the new purchasing directive, the EU Parliament has signaled that social and environmental factors are now a priority in public purchasing. In some cases, an earlier opportunity to include these factors according to the previous EU directive has now evolved into a requirement in the new version. Language to reflect these priorities has now been added; examples include “sustainable growth, sustainable development”, along with “social integration and social aspects, collective agreements and life cycle”. Public purchasing in the EU is valued at 2000 billion Euros annually – approximately 20 percent of GDP. With the new directive, the public sector is now poised to make a significant contribution to sustainable development.

Labels and certifications is encouraged

The use of labels and certifications that focus on social and environmental factors – such as TCO Certified – is encouraged along with verification of product compliance. In this way the EU directive makes it easier for buyers to take a sustainable, life cycle approach to the purchase of computers, smartphones and other electronics. In addition, the use of appropriate certifications helps verify that the products they choose actually meet the criteria required by the program. Previously, buyers wanting to verify product compliance had to accept a wide variety of documentation and other “proof” from the vendor or product manufacturer that the product met the social and environmental criteria set by the buyer in the contract. This method was often time consuming and open to incorrect interpretation. The use of internationally accepted certifications and labels makes this verification process easier and more streamlined.

The directive also allows buyers to specify a particular label or certification, provided that it includes third party verification and that it also accepts other labels or certifications that are deemed equivalent.

”We’re excited to follow the implementation of this directive”, comments Gabriella Blomgren, Marketing Director at TCO Development. ”It provides needed support for EU buyers wanting to make sustainable choices, with the help of labels and certifications.”

IT products such as notebook computers, tablets and smartphones are linked to several sustainability challenges, including environmental hazards and poor working conditions in manufacturing facilities. For buyers it’s important to be aware of third party programs that are relevant for a particular product group and what they include. As all certifications differ in their criteria for social and environmental responsibility, and life cycle considerations, there may be similarities between certifications, but no two programs will be exactly alike. The directive specifies that buyers do not need more verification other than proof that the product in question is certified / labeled by the relevant program. An exception is in cases where a vendor can claim that the bidding period was too short for them to certify the product in time. In that case, the buyer is obliged to accept other adequate proof of compliance with the criteria.

How buyers will refer to a certification or product label remains to be seen and will depend on how the directive is implemented and utilized in each member state. Possibilities are that buyers can cite the certification as part of product specifications, or in a broader sense, as a general principle of purchasing practice in a defined product area, for example, IT products.

The directive also allows greater focus on life cycle costs in the bid process. Even while this is possible today, the directive is more specific, focusing on quality, environment, social aspects and innovation.