From prescribing to inviting

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As a procurer, you are expected to maintain a certain level of aspiration with regard to sustainable public procurement (SRP). Your organisation may, for example, have agreed to implement minimum environmental criteria for all public procurements, or perhaps innovation is high on the agenda.

As a procurer, you combine these interests into a sustaibable invitation to tender. Furthermore, you are in a prime position to influence the methodology and the fulfilment of your organisation's objectives. Do you restrict yourself to the minimum requirements or do you award contracts based on other social factors? Are you going to prescribe, encourage or invite? The information on this page will help you get started.

Levels of aspiration sustainable public procurementas described underneath this image


If you select the "prescribe" option, then you must be very precise about which things you absolutely must achieve, or which things you absolutely do not want. Set minimum requirements and exclude non-sustainable products and services. Please note that you may not use eco-labels or quality marks as requirements in an invitation to tender. What you are allowed to do is to refer to elements of an eco-label and then accept the label itself or an equivalent eco-label as evidence.


Some examples of prescribing are as follows:

You will not incentivise the market to offer extra sustainable products simply by setting minimum requirements, because this gives them no additional benefits. Do you want to incentivise the market to move ahead? If so, then use award criteria.


Tools designed to encourage the market are helpful in producing tenders that exceed the minimum requirements. This can be achieved by using specific qualitative award criteria and the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (MEAT) approach when assessing bids.

In the case of awards based on MEAT, aside from price considerations, you should also formulate qualitative criteria that allow the social value of the proposals submitted to be included and calculated. Effective award criteria are adequately aspirational and challenge the market, but at the same time they are sufficiently realistic to be satisfied by the leading market players. Another way to encourage market players is to make contractual arrangements or to include performance incentives in the contract. Ask bidders to present their plans for SMART SPP, as this will allow them to be easily compared and checked.


Some examples of encouraging are as follows:

  • Include an award criterion that assigns more points to a relatively higher percentage of recycled raw materials;
  • Include the score on the CO2 performance ladder;
  • Request an action plan for the sustainable maintenance of rental properties, and award points to the contents of that action plan;
  • In the cleaning industry, do not use fixed check-lists, instead allow the cleaners sufficient scope to decide what is needed to provide a clean room;
  • Price should not be the only consideration. Allowance should also be made for social agreements, such as a reasonable workload.

Are you facing a problem but do not yet have a solution, or do you want to want to inspire the market to come up with sustainable innovations? If so, you can give the market more scope by using functional invitations to tender.


Instead of defining a product or service in your invitation to tender, you can also get the market to contribute ideas for solutions to your problem. You can provide that scope by specifying the request or procurement requirement in functional terms.

There is a big difference between specifying a procurement requirement as "six company cars" or as "transport for six members of staff". This approach requires early and intensive interaction with the market and demands considerable professionalism from your procurement organisation and from the market players.


Some examples of inviting are as follows:

  • Instead of chairs, lamps, desks and carpets, ask for workstations, operating hours and lighting hours.
  • Use a competitive dialogue to stimulate the market to innovate.
  • Forward Commitment Procurement: a tendering method in which suppliers experiment and innovate, and where clients make a prior commitment and guarantee the sale. After experimenting with this method of tendering, Erasmus MC won the Public Procurement of Innovation Award in 2014.