The Netherlands aims to develop a circular economy by 2050. It’s a small country, heavily dependent on imports, and to meet this ambition it needs to cooperate with others. Joan Prummel, International Advisor, Circular Economy at the Netherlands’ Rijkswaterstaat meets with organizations from around the world to help them implement circular procurement practices.

Why does the government of the Netherlands have a strong focus on circularity?

“Circular economy is not a goal in itself but a means to an end. Circular economy in our view is a systemic approach to deliver on and contribute to several issues. Think not only of resources but also carbon emissions, job creation, pollution, land and water use, and social circumstances. Circular economy as a system will contribute to many of the UN Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) we all agreed on. It is not ’the solution’ but we see it as the best way forward towards a sustainable, social, healthy, and prosperous society.

“We are a very small country, dependent on imports and exports, so if we want to implement a circular economy, we need the countries around us to be circular as well. We need to import circular products and export circular products to circular markets. About ten
years ago, we made the connection between circularity and procurement. The ‘production’ of a government is mainly legislation and subsidies and policies, but our own behavior is very much linked to the products we buy. To impact resource efficiency and resource management, we need to interfere with the market, using procurement as a lever.”

What’s the most important key to succeeding with circular procurement?

“I would say collaboration. If the main aim is to establish a circular economy, there is no way to close loops on your own. You need to partner with stakeholders throughout the life cycle to get things done. There is no point in, for instance, pushing your recycling industry to get a lot of materials out of products if nobody is using these materials in new products. And there is no point in having a proper circular design of products if no one is buying them and using them.

“Internal collaboration is also vital. You need commitment for design, for recycling and certainly also for procurement. Procurement is, in itself, a facilitating process, instigated by clients in an organization. These are the people who are in a position to push sustainability and circularity, and give room for procurement as a process, to engage with markets and get to the best solutions. Contract management is also vital. A large proportion of circular practices actually occur after a product is purchased. Will it be repaired, and recycled
at end of life?