Welsh Assembly considers sustainable design procurement

Green design groups could soon have a business advantage over rivals when tendering for Welsh government contracts. The Welsh Assembly Government is poised to develop a new public procurement system that prioritises ‘holistic’ sustainability.

The Ecodesign in Demand trial programme is being spearheaded by the Cardiff-based Ecodesign Centre, which is dropping Wales from its title. During a year-long pilot that starts in May, office furniture designers and manufacturers will work with the Welsh Assembly Government to create a set of procurement guidelines for eco-design.

Any resulting new rules will compel design groups to prove their Green credentials to the Welsh Assembly Government, which has so far concentrated on price, quality and delivery of products and services.

‘Rather than just the product being environmentally sound, the whole company should be able to demonstrate good ecological practice,’ says EDC director Frank O’Connor. ‘When you get behind the facade of a lot of companies, they are not as sustainable and socially responsible as they say they are.’

The new rules are likely to mean more work for government and design businesses alike.

‘It will be a more complex, but not necessarily a longer, process,’ says Gunther Kostyra, head of the sustainable procurement team at the Welsh Assembly Government’s Department for Environment, Sustainability and Housing. ‘Professional outfits should be able to adapt themselves to the new system,’ he adds.

O’Connor believes that any added work will be worthwhile for both government and design groups.

‘The government will raise its profile in the area of eco-design and it will provide an incentive for really Green design companies and manufacturers, whose bottom line will improve as a result,’ says O’Connor.

He believes that public procurement procedures must change to give a chance to the most environmentally friendly suppliers.

‘Eco-design is good design, and we need to create a demand for these products through public-sector procurement. Doing so will send a clear signal about government leadership as the UK moves towards a low-carbon economy’, says O’Connor.

EDC finalised plans for the pilot after meeting with members of the Welsh Assembly Government’s sustainable procurement team last week. O’Connor reports that the series of meetings was ‘very positive, with complete buy-in from the government.’

The next stage is to develop a framework for eco-design-led procurement across all disciplines.

‘We want this to be easily transferable to other products beside office furniture,’ says O’Connor, whose ambitions for the scheme extend to having it implemented on a national level.

A green welcome in the valleys

• The public sector in Wales spends £4.5m a year on goods and services

• About half that amount is spent with suppliers in Wales

• The design-led businesses involved in the project have not yet been confirmed, but their number could include office furniture group Orangebox, which is working with Ecodesign Centre on a parallel project

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