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Left to right: Simon Clement, Project coordinator at ICLEI Sustainable Procurement Center; Nam-Sik Park, Deputy Director of Busan Metropolitan City's Environmental Policy Division; Konrad Otto-Zimmermann, Founding Director of ICLEI East Asia Secretariat; Sung-Sik Moon, Direct General of Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute; Gakuji Fukatsu, Vic Secretary General of Green Purchasing Network, Japan.

East Asian cities: Buying green is smart and less costly

When it comes to convincing people to buy green products, costs – in monetary terms, is always the number one concern. But experts and policy makers across the East Asia region suggest that green products can actually be less pricey – not only in monetary terms, but also in terms of its harm on the natural and social environment.

“Green products can be cheaper than non-green products,” said, Sung-Sik Moon, Director General of Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute, as he pointed at the official statistics showing the prices of a range of green and non-green products at the 3rd Talk4Action on Green Procurement organized by ICLEI East Asia Secretariat on 17 December 2013.

“For the last 8 years, the economic benefits brought by green procurement in the public sector in Korea amounts to KRW 7.4 billion and it has helped to create 14,335 new jobs and reduced over 400,000t CO2 emissions,” Moon added.

Gathering experts from China, Japan, Korea and Germany, the 3rd Talk4Action explored how cities in the East Asia region are promoting green procurement, the challenges that they face, and the success stories and good practices that are applicable to other cities.

In a nutshell, green procurement or sustainable purchasing means using taxpayers’ money wisely to buy things that are efficient and not harmful to our environment,” said Konrad Otto-Zimmeramann, Founding Director of ICLEI East Asia Secretariat.

“ICLEI advocates for sustainable procurement. That means we do not only consider the financial costs of products, but also their social, economic and environmental impacts throughout the whole production cycle,” said Simon Clement, Project coordinator at ICLEI European Secretariat.

Buying Smart

Citing Austria’s capital city Vienna as an example, Clement suggested that buying green also means buying smart. From 2004-2007, the city saved EUR 44.4 million and reduced 103,000 tons of CO2 through saving water and energy, and conducting better need assessment.

“The key and basic question is: do we really have to buy?” he said, adding that consumers and government personnel in charge of procurement should think beyond the purchase price, and consider the acquisition, running, maintenance and disposal costs of products, and whether there are better and more ecofriendly products available in the market.

Green Procurement across the region

Yangping Wang, Senior Enginner at China Environmental United Certification Center presented China’s policies on green procurement in the seminar. The idea was first included in China’s 12th five year plan, and is slowly spreading in the public sector with a number of carrot and stick measures from the national government. A list comprising of 45 groups of products is also regularly released and updated by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Environmental Protection to inform the public on green products.

While green procurement was also spearheaded by the national government in Korea, local governments like Busan and Seoul are showing inspiring and innovative solutions from the ground.

In Busan, for instance, green procurement has become mandatory for all government departments and agencies. The local government sets annual target and compares its results with other municipalities to check progress and drive improvements. Financial support is given to companies producing green products and incentives are offered to encourage companies to market their product overseas.

Japan, who kick-started its Green Public Procurement (GPP) program in 2000, shows remarkable achievement throughout the past decade. According to a survey conducted in 2012, 75.6% of all local governments across the country has implemented GPP, although short political cycle, regular personnel changes, and lack of inter-sectoral cooperation are posing challenges to further raising the figure.

Linking social and environmental criteria

Speaking on behalf of cities, Nam-Sik Park, Deputy Director of Busan Metropolitan City’s Environmental Policy Division reaffirmed the importance of linking environmental and social criteria in GPP by citing a LED company in Busan as an example.

“The company hires hearing-impaired workers, who show much higher concentration than normal people, this makes production more effective, and in return, the benefits go back to the business,” he said. “But as local governments, we need more support to support these business and encourage people to think of the environmental and social impacts of purchasing.”

Currently, Korea has a national online procurement system called GePS that provides real-time information on eco-labeled and recycled products. Through this system, the government can also monitor the performance in GPP of all departments and agencies.

“Tracking is one of the issues that many European countries and cities have been struggling, this is definitely something that we have to learn from the East,” said Clement.

Since 1996, ICLEI has been a key driver in GPP in Europe but also other parts of the world. For more information, visit Sustainable Procurement Resource Center.


To download presentations at the 3rd Talk4Action, please follow the following links:

EN | KR | JP | CN