Sendai public purchasing

Posted on March, 01 2012

Green procurement powerhouse 

Green procurement powerhouse

Sendai was one of the leaders of the Japanese grassroots movement for green public procurement in the 1990’s. It led to Japan becoming a forerunner in the field, with national legislation being set up as early as 2000. More than 90% of Sendai’s municipal purchases are made from a list of green products the city has set up. Sendai also hosted the first International Conference on Green Purchasing in 2004, where the International Green Purchase Network was founded.

Keywords: green procurement, sustainable consumption, regulations, eco-labelling, democracy

Surprisingly, green public procurement is an area that is often neglected by cities in their efforts to promote sustainability. Central and local government purchases are estimated to represent up to 10% of global GDP when wages are subtracted. Green criteria should therefore be of great importance for the environment: both directly, due to the size of governmental agencies as consumers, and indirectly, as they can steer the market in a green direction. One example of this is the US requirement since 1993 for Energy Star labelling on all federal computers purchased, which radically transformed the computer market. Despite the fact that cities have developed increasingly more stringent green policies in the past two decades, they have generally been slow to become green consumers themselves (see also Calgary and Tokyo).

Green Purchasing Network
Sendai is an exception. Known as the "City of Trees", Sendai is a city on the east coast of Japan and was badly hit by the tsunami in 2011. At the beginning of the 1990s, together with the prefecture of Shiga, Sendai led a movement of local administrative authorities, businesses, and NGOs in developing common guidelines for green procurement. This was followed by the formation, in 1996, of the Green Purchasing Network (GPN), a nationwide web of organisations committed to promoting green procurement. The network has expanded; by 2007 it had incorporated 2,900 members, 2,300 of which are companies, 300 state and local authorities, and 280 NGOs. Among these are all the prefectures, the largest cities, and the majority of large corporations. GPN has promoted green procurement through seminars, awards, and information exchange. It has built up a system of guidelines for green procurement, and created an online database of over 11,000 products, divided into 16 categories. The database has impacted industry, both because of the many public and private purchasers that use it, and due to the fact that, for the first time, company products have been systematically compared from an environmental point of view. The ranking of products includes a lifecycle perspective.

Close to 100% green procurement
In association with the launch of the GPN, Sendai started its own green procurement, creating a list of recommended products in 2000. The following year Sendai adopted a regulation, which included guidelines, requiring the city's institutions to select green products, if at all possible, with the goal of 90% coverage in ten product categories. After five years the list had grown to 254 products in 19 categories with close to 100% coverage in all categories except furniture. All administrations must annually report their purchases to Sendai’s Green Purchasing Section, which trains staff and has created a website for the city’s purchasers.

Sendai Green Purchasing Section is also working to spread green consumption to individuals and businesses in the city by holding seminars and annual exhibitions. In 2003, the city launched the Sendai Green Stationery Promotion Programme, through which the city has created its own Sendai Green Stationery brand, with 13 products - in addition to paper, also pencils, notebooks, and scissors - which are sold in more than 100 stores. Sendai has also created its own eco-label for other products.

An expansion – nationally and internationally
In 2004 Sendai contributed further to the spread of green procurement by hosting the first International Conference on Green Purchasing, which led to the founding of the International Green Purchase Network (IGPN). The organisation is one of the most active in the field.

GPN influenced the Japanese government to adopt the "Law on Promoting Green Purchasing" making green procurement mandatory for federal institutions, and recommends it to local authorities, businesses, and individuals. The law also directs federal institutions to make their green procurement publicly transparent. The criteria are based partly on the GPN, and partly on the Japanese eco-label “Eco-Mark”. By 2005, all local authorities had developed guidelines for procurement. Implementation is still lower at the local level than it is at the national level, where 90% of all institutions applied some level of green procurement in 2007. The Japanese government hopes to gain an international edge when it comes to green marketing and is currently sponsoring the GPN.

Green procurement is expanding
During the 2000s, green public procurement has developed in other countries and cities, and seems to be heading for a breakthrough. A number of countries have introduced regulations in the past five years, including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, China, South Korea, and the US. The European Commission has pursued the issue for years, with the goal to get green criteria considered for at least 50% of purchases. There is varying interest among member countries, and only one group, called "Green 7" – Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, UK, Sweden, Germany and Austria – has achieved this goal. Other cities distinguishing themselves for green procurement are London, Vienna (see also Vienna), Portland, San Francisco, and several Canadian cities.

Mónica Kjöllerström, 2008, Public Procurement as a tool for promoting more Sustainable Consumption and Production patterns, United Nations Sustainable Development Innovation Briefs, August 2008,

ICLEI Case Studies, “Sendai City, Japan: Eco/Green Purchasing”,

Kisu Yaeko, City of Sendai, "Sendai a Green Purchasing City: Sendai’s Green Purchasing Efforts", 2007,

Tomoo Machiba, Martin Herrndorf, Michael Kuhndt, 2007, Green Purchasing, UNEP/Wuppertal Institute Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP),

City of Sendai,

International Green Purchasing Network,

Green Purchasing Network,

Procura+, ICLEI's Sustainable Procurement Campaign,

Sustainable Procurement Resource Center,

United Nations Global Marketplace,

Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision,

Text by: Martin Jacobson

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Sendai station
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