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City of Helsinki procures more sustainable meat and dairy products

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2021-01-25 Reetta Huomo and Meri Mathlin

The City of Helsinki and Service Centre Helsinki have sought ways to reduce the climate impact of meat and dairy products by developing procurement criteria. At the same time, meat and dairy products were successfully procured more responsible and traceable.

Meat and dairy products are significant procurement entities in the City of Helsinki’s food procurements. Procured products are mainly used in education and care facilities, where products are transferred through the food services by Service Centre Helsinki. In preparation for these recurring procurements, ways were sought to reduce the impact on the climate and environment, a significant part of which arises in primary production. Another aim was to find out whether carbon footprint calculation could be included in the tendering process or the contract period, thereby pursuing measurable emissions reductions. Furthermore, the product responsibility was improved by taking for example animal wellbeing better into account.

The low-carbon procurement processes of meat and dairy products are described more closely in the case descriptions that can be found at the end of the story. In addition to the used criteria, the descriptions compile best practices and learnings.

Market dialogue enabled the creation of effective criteria

During procurement preparations, a market dialogue event was organized for potential tenderers. The goal of the event was to create understanding of the market’s capacity to respond to low-carbon measures and possibilities for calculating procurement object’s carbon footprint. On top of that, potential tenderers responded to sustainability questionnaires. Also, environmental and carbon footprint specialists from the city organization as well as other organizations were consulted regarding the environmental and responsibility criteria of the procurement.

The final sustainability criteria was formed based on the market dialogue results, questionnaires and multiprofessional cooperation.

In total 18 sustainability criteria were included in the meat and meat preparations procurement and 12 in the milk and dairy product procurement. Tenderers were also required to draft an action plan that covers climate impact activities related to the object of the procurement. During the contract period, the action plan will be reviewed and implemented in cooperation with the supplier.

Criteria that pursues for emission reductions

During the procurement preparation, carbon footprint calculation was examined if it could be included in the tendering process or the contract period, which was a completely new approach in food procurement. Eventually, in the meat products including calculation was found currently impossible due the lack of consistent and sufficiently accurate calculation methods for different meats.

Instead, there is a standardized method for dairy products defining the product’s environmental impact. The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) -method is also recommended by the European Commission. The utilization of PEF was examined in cooperation with researchers from the Finnish Environment Institute. Based on the research it was found that, at present, calculating the carbon footprint of a product and producing the carbon footprint data in a comparable manner for the procurement is too complicated and requires time, money and expertise. In addition, it is noted that the method, as it is, does not take market’s ambitious targets on carbon sequestration into account.

Although the optimistic goals of including carbon footprint calculation in the tendering process had to be changed, there was great progress in terms of climate and responsibility criteria that have been carefully chewed over. It is likely that, instead of calculating the carbon footprint of a few products, introducing comprehensive responsibility criteria and an action plan addressing the climate impact achieved better effectiveness.

Long-term sustainability work in food procurement field

Market dialogue and the criteria development work were an educational experience. The development of new criteria demands broad commitment to common goals and objectives as well as sufficient resources through the organization and inner stakeholders. It is important to make it visible for food suppliers and producers that the demand for transparent food chain exists and there is a market for sustainably produced foodstuff.

As mentioned above, the most remarkable carbon emissions are formed during primary production. Hence, it is a tempting option to include CO2 footprint in the criteria in the future. In order to do so, however, study and development in the field should be followed actively. Overall, the City of Helsinki continues sustainability criteria development actively in the future. For example, the amount of organic food has increased yearly – at daycare centers operated by Service Center the share of organic food products procured was up to 25 % in 2019.

Production of a mixed diet causes the majority of the carbon footprint of food services. Finnish Environmental Institute calculated together with the City of Turku that over 80 % of climate impact is caused by mixed diet food production. The change towards more vegetarian based diets requires development of new recipes and modifications of attitudes. In Helsinki, Carbon Neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan provides guidance and framework on how to proceed in order to reduce the consumption of red meat and increase vegetarian foods.

Read more from our case descriptions of meat and dairy procurement:

Reetta Huomo, City of Helsinki
Meri Mathlin, Service Centre Helsinki

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