Set the level of ambition

Your city’s ambitions will drive circular public procurement

Cities can set a direction of travel by defining waste reduction targets, putting in place reuse systems, and implementing cross-cutting measures to encourage businesses to become more circular. Having a city-level vision for circularity, based on an analysis of current challenges and opportunities, helps to orient policy levers such as public procurement. A city-wide roadmap, plan, strategy, or declaration, also helps to set the level of ambition and can be developed in ways that build local buy-in. By aligning procurement decisions with your city’s circular economy ambitions and supporting the process with other policy levers, your city government can leverage its purchasing power to deliver environmental, social, and economic benefits for its citizens. However, defining a city-wide vision or strategy for circularity is not a prerequisite for implementing circular public procurement. Several city governments have started to procure more circular goods and services without a circular economy strategy.

Adopting a more circular approach to public procurement will be more successful if there is a common understanding among city officials and stakeholders of what your city’s circular public procurement strategy aims to achieve. Developing and communicating a circular public procurement plan will send a signal to the market, communicate a clear approach to potential suppliers, and provide a mechanism to engage the private sector in the transition. It also supports the mainstreaming of a circular approach across all of the city’s procurement activities and departments. Gaining support from your mayor or upper management ensures that circular public procurement is set as a priority.

Questions to consider:

  • What are your city’s and/or department’s circular economy ambitions?

  • What circular economy objectives can your city and/or department achieve in the short, medium, and long term?

  • How could your city and/or department leverage its purchasing power to support your city’s strategic priorities?

  • If you don’t have a mandate to pursue circular public procurement, can you get the support of the mayor, city council, or senior city officials?


1) In 2018, to create economic growth, enhance social prosperity, and move towards zero waste, the City of Toronto presented its Circular Economy Procurement Implementation Plan and Framework to the City Council. Toronto’s Solid Waste Management Services Division and its Purchasing and Materials Management Division developed guiding principles and a plan for integrating circular economy approaches into public procurement processes. City staff have applied the Circular Procurement Framework to selected procurements to better understand what can be achieved both through enhanced communication about circularity to potential vendors, changes to specifications, and attention to the City's purchasing needs.

2) To stimulate local economic development and drive the green economy, while promoting environmental sustainability and resource efficiency, the City of Cape Town’s Green Procurement Action Plan defines a set of green procurement decision-making principles, desired objectives, and outcomes. The City has defined seven objectives in its action plan which defines areas of work and timeframes for completion. The plan supports the city’s Supply Chain Management Policy and includes provisions for the preferential procurement for small businesses (SMMEs), broad-based black economic empowerment in South Africa (BBEE), and localisation criteria for certain sectors.

3) In its national strategy for a circular economy, Columbia has conducted a resource flow analysis of the country’s economy. It analyses the balance between the volumes of materials, water, and energy that enters and leaves the economy. Understanding which resources are lost across the system can help to identify circular economy opportunities.

4) The New York Circular City Initiative brings together representatives from the Mayor’s office, city agencies, multinational corporations, foundations, and academic institutions, to promote a vision for the circular economy. The vision highlights the role of public procurement.


  • The “roadmap and strategies” section of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Urban Policy Levers paper, provides an overview of how city governments can develop a circular economy city roadmap.

  • The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has set out five universal circular economy policy goals: + Stimulate design for the circular economy + Manage resources to preserve value + Make the economics work + Invest in innovation, infrastructure and skills + Collaborate for system change These goals provide a framework for national governments, cities, and businesses to create a transition that fosters innovation and decouples growth from finite resource consumption and environmental degradation. The five goals provide a blueprint for cooperation and help to align ambitions and create a common direction of travel.

  • The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra has compiled a guide based on what has been learned from developing Finland’s circular economy roadmap. The guide features tools, guidelines, and inspiration for countries and cities that want to move towards or are already taking their first steps towards a circular economy. The guide walks the reader through each phase of the road map process. It provides detailed information about the different phases of building a road map and specific examples of how it was done in Finland.

  • Over 60 cities have signed the European Circular Cities Declaration. The Declaration provides a shared vision of what a “circular city” is, and establishes a community of committed organisations to share their experiences and successes.

  • Public procurers can reorient the production of technologies to tackle climate change, waste, and pollution. This interview with Dr Betrand Piccard highlights the power of public procurers and how they can lead with their purchasing power.

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