The municipality of Aalborg has high aspirations when it comes to sustainability and has during the past two decades worked committedly to improving the sustainability of the city. It is the fourth largest city in Denmark and is home to more than 200 000 citizens. As a result of a Danish school reform that recognised the importance of differentiated learning environments for facilitating inclusion, well-being and improved learning, schools in Denmark are looking for new classroom designs, which are flexible and dynamic and that can be tailored to classes’ learning needs. Aalborg decided to use this opportunity to transform their approach of classroom design far away from just focusing tables and chairs, and instead create an inspiring learning environment, that supports students’ needs whilst also strengthening the circular economy of the school. Thus, Aalborg designed a public procurement tender that asked providers not just to supply, but also inspire and challenge ideas, and provide a comprehensive proposal for a new classroom environment based on circularity and the re-use and refurbishing of existing furniture.
The environmental impact of furniture and other classroom equipment are linked to the materials that are used in the production. Schools are just one of many examples where furniture and other equipment have a short lifespan due to its heavy use. Not only is purchasing new furniture expensive, it is also not environmentally sustainable. But, as the actual use of furniture results in virtually no environmental impact, extending the lifespan has a direct environmental benefit. As such, a circular approach to procurement, which rewards reuse and refurbishment over purchases of new furniture, can be considered a more holistic and sustainable approach to meeting organisations furniture needs.
Good practices and solutions
The use of public procurement to support the acceleration of circular economy and sustainability in public services is a good example that is also advocated as a useful method by the EU. In the case of Aalborg, the tender for new classroom designs was designed to include provider merits of:
• Integrating the principles of circular economy with interior design solutions
• Analysing interior design through dialogue with schools
• Guaranteeing the possibility of recycling existing furniture
• Preparing interior design proposals
• Restoring and refurbishing existing furniture
• Delivering and installing new furniture
• Responsibly disposing of excess furniture which is not considered suitable for reuse or recycling.
This way, Aalborg ensured that the provider would be responsible for the long-term maintenance the produces and use sustainable materials and reparable furniture with a long life-cycles. Furthermore, technical specifications of the tender specified that the use of packaging should be made from recycled materials, at least 70 percent of wood used should come from sustainable sources. The producer also had to provide service and during the total warranty period had to inform the schools of the relevant maintenance services available and advised for each product.
Outcome and opportunities
Sustainable and circular procurement looks beyond short-term needs and considers the whole lifecycle of a product or service. As a result, schools can reuse and repair classroom furniture rather than purchasing new, thereby saving costs, as well as reducing the environmental impact of producing new furniture. However, for the procurement process to work as expected it is important to design the tender carefully with cross-sectoral input on how to define the services and products asked for. It is also important to include a requirement for continued monitoring and evaluation of the services provided throughout the whole contract period in order to ensure that the procurement and the services provided meet the objectives.
Related SGD targets:
- 4.A Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
- 4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development
- 12.7 Promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities.
Photo: © Katya Austin/Unsplash
Project: Circular Baltic 2030