IWR category aims for maximum sustainability in ICT

To be among the sustainability forerunners within Europe. That is the objective of the procurement category ‘ICT Workplace Environment of the National Government’ (ICT Werkomgeving Rijk, IWR). We spoke with Lucien Claassen, IWR category manager, about sustainability and procuring ICT resources. ‘Challenge the market and let the market players brainstorm together on how they’re going to solve your sustainable procurement problem.’

Lucien Claassen
Lucien Claassen

Leveraging purchasing power for more sustainable ICT

The IWR category concerns the government-wide procurement of all the ICT resources you see in governmental offices, like monitors and printers, but also ICT devices issued to employees, for example, smartphones and laptops. This category also includes all kinds of associated services and accessories, such as telephone exchanges. The value of these contracts exceeds €160 million annually. So much purchasing power offers opportunities to have the market take additional measures in the field of sustainability. And that is precisely what Lucien has done with the new category plan.

Lucien remarks, ‘In the new category plan, it’s clear that we’ve opted to be very ambitious in the area of sustainability. We want to leverage our purchasing power cleverly, so as to win additional sustainability from the market. Let us be a forerunner, occasionally even an enabler, to make certain things possible.’

‘In the category plan, with regard to sustainability, we’ve mainly emphasised the climate and circularity. This is where we stand to make the greatest impact, because it centres on purchasing hardware. The International Social Conditions (ISV) — which deal with working conditions and human rights — have been added as a third component. In terms of social return, we’re also trying to make the greatest possible impact. But there’s relatively little labour in our category in the Netherlands. This takes form mainly in additional services. So, when we do request services, we focus heavily on the subject of social return.’

Rendering non-sustainable procurement impossible

‘Around a hundred independent contracting authorities participate in our tenders. We want to make it as easy as possible for the procurers of these participants within the national government. We often conclude framework contracts with several suppliers from which orders can be placed. Additionally, we ensure that, within the framework contracts, it’s impossible to purchase non-sustainable products. In order to accomplish that, we administer filters to the market. The first filter we employ is based on the EcoVadis score. EcoVadis is a rating organisation that evaluates how sustainable manufacturers and resellers are, before assigning them a score. Only those manufacturers who meet our requirement for a certain minimum score are allowed to supply products in a contract like this. In addition, we apply a filter at product level. The sustainable manufacturers who are allowed to supply products may only supply items that have been certified according to TCO Certified. The TCO Certified programme looks at socially responsible and environmentally friendly production, for example. It also examines how long a product lasts, its circularity and how a product is constructed. Together, the Ecovadis score and the TCO Certified certification leave you with a selection of products that are sufficiently sustainable and that originate from a sustainable manufacturer. So, the procurers for a governmental entity no longer have to worry about whether their activities are sustainable. Everything that’s supplied is automatically sustainable’, explains Lucien.

‘We ensure that, within the framework contracts, it’s impossible to purchase non-sustainable products.’

In addition to the filters based on the Ecovadis score and the TCO Certified certification, the category has other requirements that a product must satisfy, such as for reparability. Lucien points out, ‘We want a product to last as long as possible. That doesn't necessarily have to be within the national government, but it does have to be for the total lifespan of the device. And we achieve this by requiring that products have long-term software support and that spare parts will still be available up to five years after end-of-sale. This means that you can get about seven years out of one device. We're fine with that, because we only managed to get three years out of laptops from the national government. If you could up that to seven years, that would be a gigantic step forward.’

'We also examine the use of raw materials, for which we use the R ladder. With this model, you can indicate how circular you are. The higher you score on this ladder, the better. We try, with the measures we take, to score as high as possible on the R-ladder. We’re aware that not everything is 100% circular yet. Therefore, we also compensate for raw materials in those product groups where this is possible and which have a relatively short lifespan. For example, products like smartphones, laptops and tablets. This means that for every smartphone we purchase, one is saved from the rubbish pile‘, says Lucien.

Reducing and offsetting CO2 emissions

Beyond the focus on circularity and the use of raw materials, the category also aims to reduce CO2 emissions. Lucien notes, ‘For all the products, we require that the suppliers give us insight into their life cycle analysis — the LCA. This illustrates how much CO2 is released throughout the production, transport and usage of the products’ lifespan. For many of the products we buy, the majority of the CO2 emissions occur during the production phase. In the case of a smartphone, that’s 80% of the device's carbon footprint. That’s why, from the viewpoint of the climate, you want a product to last as long as possible, because then you spread out the CO2 emissions of the production phase over the longest possible period. Happily, this is also very beneficial for circularity, so climate ambitions and circular ambitions are mutually reinforcing here. We also manage the energy mix of the transport. Therefore, we demand that the product is transported in the most CO2-efficient way to the Netherlands, and then CO2-neutral within the Netherlands.’

Despite the focus on reducing CO2 emissions, CO2 is inevitably released throughout the production, transport and usage of the products’ lifespan. Also, a significant percentage of non-renewable energy is still used for electricity generation. Which is why the category employs CO2 offsets. ‘The manufacturer has to offset the product’s entire carbon footprint. We achieve these CO2 offsets by applying the Fairtrade Climate Standard. The Fairtrade organisation carries out projects with a large number of farmers who cultivate coffee beans or cacao, with whom they also undertake CO2-offset projects. The great thing about this is only not only does it help to reduce and offset the carbon footprint, it also contributes to other issues from the SDGs, like poverty reduction and education’, says Lucien.

‘We sent market players the 'Procurement with impact’ report, asking, “How are you going to help us achieve this?” ‘

Challenge the market

Lucien's approach has already yielded great results. What can others learn from this? According to Lucien, ‘The principal lesson is that you have to begin on time with every tender, especially for these kinds of large projects. Above all, dialogue with the market at an early stage. We sent them the ‘Procurement with Impact’ report and asked, “How are you going to help us achieve this?” Challenge the market. This way you find out not only what they (market players) are working on, but also what you can demand in a tender. We also try to pass on as much of what we’ve learned as possible, so that municipalities, provinces and water boards also learn from this and copy things from us. We encourage this via the buyer groups. Furthermore, we’re involved in all manner of European partnerships to exchange ideas. So, we increasingly see the same type of tenders with the same type of sustainability requirements within the EU’s own public procurement. As a result, you can steer the industry in a certain direction. It’s already heading in the right direction, but it will go in the right direction even faster.’