NL & FR experts explain: how public procurement drives the circular economy

France and the Netherlands share the ambition to create a circular economy. Therefore, we are working together to create a better, more sustainable system where no materials are wasted.

In this interview, I ask two experts to share their experience with creating a circular public procurement system. Let me introduce you to Joan Prummel who works at Rijkswaterstaat (RWS), the executive agency of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in the Netherlands, and Marline Weber of the Institut National d’Economie Circulaire (INEC) in France. Joan has a lot of experience in this field in the Netherlands and travels to other countries to share his expertise. Marline took the knowledge she got from Joan to start the movement in France, which resulted in the action programme for « Achats et Economie circulaire ».

Together, they are an excellent example of teamwork to drive the circular economy forward! In this interview, you will discover what circular government procurement is, why it is important and how the Netherlands and France are establishing circular government procurement!

First of all, could you explain in a nutshell what circular procurement is?

Marline: Circular Procurement means, for a public or private authority, to put the purchases necessary for its function at the service of the transition to the circular economy. The buyer can acquire a good or service called “circular”: purchase of an eco-designed, bio-sourced, recyclable, recycled, raw material and energy-saving, modular, repairable product.

Alternatively, the buyer can also turn to a “circular” model contract. The service provider remains the owner of the product, can thus invoice by use or according to the performance desired by the customer. An example: invoicing by number of printed copies instead of selling a printer or a lighting service instead of selling light bulbs (such as Signify has done at Schiphol airport, ed.). The service provider stays in charge of maintenance, replacement and the recycling of its equipment, and will thus tend to guarantee a long service life of the product and a lower waste of natural resources.

Joan: And circular procurement also means creating opportunity! Part of circular economy is innovation, either technical in new products and materials or process-wise in new ways of delivering and contracting existing products and materials. Procurement has the power to enable and stimulate the market to innovate and make the necessary changes by creating a demand for these innovations.

And how is this approach different from traditional purchasing?

Marline: This approach leads to a rethinking of the need: do I really need chairs? Don’t I already have some that are not being used? Do I have a need for chairs or ‘to sit down’? What are alternatives? Can I work while standing, or with modular work plans, or do teleworking?

Joan: Indeed, rethinking is a key word. Not only of the need for a product or for ownership, but also rethink and redesign the standard process of make-waste-dispose which is common in all our organisations. We need to figure out our best contribution to closing loops of products, components and materials.

As a user we can take initiative in the supply/value chain of products, meaning that as ‘procurement people’ we now are talking with a new set of partners. From designers to producers to suppliers to our own organisation to the waste management companies. All participants in the chain are now potential partners in contracts to help arrange the longer use (and reuse) of products and materials and to establish the closing of product and material loops.

Why is it important for the Netherlands and France?

Joan: Procurement is a very important instrument for a number of reasons. First of all it’s a lever for change in the market. With (public) demand we can assure suppliers that there is a business case for them if they produce circular products. Second, the size of this lever is enormous, public procurement in Europe is around € 2 trillion on a yearly basis. On top of that procurement is an easy to use ‘direct impact’ instrument, translating organisational ambitions into real business opportunities for suppliers. And finally procurement is within everybody’s reach, every organisation uses it to obtain the products and services the work with!

The Netherlands started with the ‘Green Deal’ approach, bringing a range of stakeholders together to commit to a sustainable goal. The Green Deal Circular Purchasing has been a great success. Joan shared this experience with Marline, and now also being implemented in France!

Can you tell us how your international collaboration started?

Marline: In front of a Dali painting in a museum in Glasgow, during the 2018 Circular Economy Hotspot Scotland. Joan an I made a deal and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management decided to support our French program on circular procurement!

As easy as that! And then?

Joan, why and how did you teach Marline about the Dutch approach?

Joan: In The Netherlands we have the ambition to become circular in 2050. That is a big ambition and our economy is strongly depending on import and export, so it’s important to stimulate circular economy in the countries we trade with. And one of the powerful instruments with direct impact is procurement, accelerated through the learning network the Green Deal provides.

Sharing knowledge is not very difficult if you can share with an audience that understands and is eager to learn and set up their own experiments.

Marline, what are the most inspiring things you learnt from the Dutch approach?

Marline: Joan taught us that to do circular procurement, you just need to try! And that’s we did: we launched our operational program on circular procurement, to experiment and demonstrate that this is possible and that actors benefit from getting started.

What happened in France as a result from your collaboration?

Marline: The Dutch approach was really our inspiration, and without this proof of success, we would not have launched our operational program with the Great Paris Area (Metropole du Grand Paris) and the Responsible Procurement Observatory (ObsAR), which is an example of good practice in France now.

Finally, what does the future hold? How do you think the circular economy will evolve in the Netherlands and in France? Any next plans for collaboration?

Joan: In the short term circular economy will lead to lots of new experiments with technological and process innovations. Trying out new collaborations, new consortia in supply and value chains. On a longer term this will spread over Europe and other regions of the world and it will make circular economy principles a starting point for major changes, contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals and partly instigated by procurement entities and their purchasers who dare to take a next step.

Marline: Our ambition is to transform our program into a national Green Deal and make it grow. The circular economy is a really important topic in France, especially with the preparation of a law on circular economy. Luckily Joan will come back to Paris in September to train the participants of our program again on the methods of circular procurement!

Are you also working on advancing the circular economy? If you have questions about the opportunities for NL-FR collaboration in the field of circular economy, please contact Leontine Schijf, Circular Economy Advisor at the Dutch Embassy in Paris (