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Toward a more sustainable food system using public procurement

Time: Thu 2023-06-15 13.00

Location: Bora Bora, Teknikringen 10B, Stockholm

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Language: English

Subject area: Environmental Strategic Analysis

Doctoral student: Elvira Molin , Hållbar utveckling, miljövetenskap och teknik, IVL Svenska Miljöinstitutet

Opponent: Universitetslektor Skoglund Wilhelm, Mittuniversitetet

Supervisor: Professor Anna Björklund, Hållbarhet, utvärdering och styrning

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QC 20230530


Around 30 % of today's anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions originate from the food sector. Food production is the lead cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, depletion of fish stocks, and scarcity of fresh water. The planetary resources rapidly decrease with a continually growing population demanding resourceintense food, such as dairy and animal protein. The global production of calories satisfies human needs, but while some suffer from hunger, even more, suffer from overweight or obesity.

For a food system to be sustainable, it must not negatively impact the three pillars of sustainability, i.e., economic, environmental, and social. One of the main challenges for the food system is to reduce the environmental impact to operate and stay within the planetary boundaries.

Three million public meals are served daily in Sweden. Public procurement has been recognized as a powerful tool with potential to promote quality and educate change. Previous research has shown that implementing sustainability criteria in the procurement document leads to an increase in certified products in procurements. The National Agency for Public Procurement (NAPP) in Sweden provides a library with sustainability criteria on different levels and for almost all commonly bought products. Active work with sustainability and applying sustainability criteria in procurement can contribute to pupils education health and a further sustainable food system.

In this thesis, I frame sustainable procurement through a systematic review of academic literature and interviews with Swedish practitioners who buy or sell food products through public procurements. Furthermore, I elaborate on the Swedish actors' experienced ability to influence the procurements, the use of sustainability criteria, and barriers and opportunities toward a further sustainable food system using public procurement. The goal is to examine possible ways toward a more sustainable food system through public procurement.

The results show that both the reviewed literature and the Swedish actors have a comprehensive take on sustainability and work with all three dimensions. Above all, the favoured sustainability aspects are predominantly procuring organically labelled and locally sourced foods. Working with food waste is recognised as important, but few initiatives are taken within the procurement process to reduce food waste. Despite a large amount of academic literature on efficiently reducing environmental impacts from the food system (mainly by dietary changes and waste reduction). The results show little interest among actors in promoting these specific public sector actions. The Swedish actors are overall satisfied with the services and the criteria library provided by the NAPP. A majority of the respondents contributed to writing and reviewing the criteria, adding to the criteria’s acceptance and usage within the sector.

There are several initiatives already taken by policymakers, procuring authorities, and not the least, the market to improve sustainability in the food system. iv Stockholm, Sverige 2023 Nevertheless, actions must be taken at multiple levels simultaneously to address the scale of our sustainability challenges. This thesis contributes knowledge that can guide future research toward sustainable food systems, bridge the stakeholder’s priorities with research where they differ today, and fully use the potential in public procurements.