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Centenary Farmer's Market, Thimpu, Bhutan.
Food Consumption

Interventions to enable preparation and consumption of sustainable, nutritious, and healthy diets.

Integrate healthy and sustainable diets in public procurement


Public procurement can address food systems issues in many different ways. Public food procurement (PFP) refers to the purchase of food for public institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons, universities, cafeterias in public buildings and within other public social programmes.

Sustainable public procurement (SPP) policies target both social and environmental concerns related to food production and consumption. SPP policies may focus on one or more aspects of sustainable and healthy diets, including:

  • Purchasing local, seasonal, organic, plant-based and/or unprocessed foods
  • Sourcing from social cooperatives or local and sustainable small and medium enterprise (SME) agri-food producers
  • Providing healthy and sustainable diets to children and teenagers. 

Concrete measures to implement

As major purchasers of food and catering services, public authorities can play an important role in supporting sustainable food production, distribution and consumption. There are three main ways public procurement can drive healthy and sustainable diets: 

  • Develop a public regulatory framework and policies for PFP schemes to:
    • Enable the implementation of PFP schemes that favour or prioritize certain suppliers (e.g. local, smallholder farms that use sustainable practices).
    • Establish simplified rules and procedures to facilitate contract “lotting” (i.e. where large contracts are divided into smaller, more manageable lots), making it easier for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to win tenders.
    • Allow greater consideration of sustainability issues associated with food procurement (e.g. impacts on human health and the environment) rather than awarding contracts based solely on the lowest economic cost. For example, Scotland’s Procurement Reform Act requires that all contracting authorities consider sustainability dimensions when awarding contracts.
    • Strengthen the emphasis on sourcing local (especially from SMEs), seasonal and fresh products.
    • Developing and adopting SPP criteria at the national and municipal level and make them mandatory for food procurement.
  • Make sure that existing public procurement criteria align with ambitious climate, health and animal welfare goals for food systems:
    • Make plant-based options more commonplace on menus, thereby helping to enable a balanced diet.
    • Increase the procurement of free-range and organic animal products, or require contractors to enforce stronger animal protection standards in meat and dairy production.
    • Source seasonal food and food products that are handled with low environmental impact packaging throughout the supply chain.
    • Ensure bulk purchases and that food stocks are carefully managed to avoid waste.
    • Include full life cycle costs when evaluating PFP tender proposals to decrease carbon impact, by considering emissions that arise throughout the entire life cycle including for example transportation and packaging. For more detailed information on using life cycle impact assessments for agri-food systems, see Food systems assessment.
    • Ensure that any move to low-carbon menus is made without compromising on taste or nutritional quality, which could reduce the public’s acceptance of such a shift.
  • Adopt and implement SPP criteria:
    • Provide training to procurement officers and caterers, and engage chefs and nutritionists in menu design.
    • Set quantifiable and timebound targets to keep institutions accountable and measure progress. 
    • Facilitate performance monitoring and budget tracking, including digitalization of procurement processes. 
    • Establish a network of best practices to encourage innovation. 
    • Encourage contractors who operate their own kitchens to use or purchase energy and water-efficient equipment.
    • Make public procurement conditional upon the adoption of food waste prevention targets by catering companies to address food waste. For more information on possible food waste measures, see Reducing food waste in gastronomy sector, retail and at household level.
    • Encourage contractors to deliver environmental education activities to the recipient of catering services (e.g. raising awareness about food waste and low-carbon diets among schoolchildren).
  • Support knowledge sharing and best practices, peer learning and innovative approaches to shifting diets in public institutions. 
  • Choose the appropriate type of procurement scheme depending on the specific context, for example:
    • Reservation schemes make certain procurement opportunities available only to suppliers who satisfy certain prescribed criteria. They have the potential to benefit family farmers, family rural entrepreneurs, local producers, vulnerable producers (such as land reform settlers and traditional communities) and organic and agroecological producers. 
    • Preferencing schemes use a fully competitive tender process but give preference to suppliers who meet certain criteria (e.g. qualification as local or smallholder farmers, or agroecological production). Preferencing schemes potentially benefit local agricultural production. 
    • In indirect schemes the procuring entity requires the immediate contractors (e.g. caterers) to purchase food from targeted beneficiaries (e.g. family farmers). 
  • Implement Environmental Management Systems (EMSs) (either directly by the public authorities who operate PFP programmes or indirectly by requiring suppliers to adopt EMSs as conditions for procurement contracts).
A variety of orphan crops for sale in Arusha Market, Tanzania.
A variety of orphan crops for sale in Arusha Market, Tanzania

Enabling governance measures

Creating an enabling governance environment is essential for effectively implemented the above measures. These enabling measures can include: 

  • Setting commitments at the national level to encourage and facilitate conducive conditions for SPP at the local level (e.g. development of clear definitions, objectives and roles).
  • Implementing sustainable PFP coupled with other programmes with similar objectives, such as environmental programmes (e.g. initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) or social programmes (e.g. initiatives to improve food literacy among children).
  • Establishing a policy framework that enables the reduction of costs and risks faced by SMEs and smallholder producers of nutritious foods.
  • Creating certification programmes to promote producers/suppliers who specialize in sustainable foods.
  • Promoting dialogue to understand what the local market and different market actors (e.g. producers, retailers and wholesalers) have to offer and adjust tender requirements accordingly.
  • Introducing food systems-based dietary guidelines that set standards for public procurement (see Introducing food systems-based dietary guidelines).
  • Developing multi-level governance model that delegates some or all PFP authority to local/municipal authorities. Local governments are playing a growing role in the development of sustainable food systems and can play a key role in “greening” PFP.
  • Developing social/cultural infrastructure (e.g, education, social environment, regulatory frameworks and public communication) that leads to changes in belief systems, values and social norms and that predispose people to accept sustainable lifestyle changes (e.g. healthier and more sustainable diets offered by SPP).
  • Increasing the professionalization of procurement by appointing professionals trained to design and evaluate procurement programmes based on social, environmental and/or nutritional context. 
  • Promoting supply-chain transparency by requiring or incentivizing producers/suppliers to disclose information about their supply chains (e.g. labour practices, product origins or use of pesticides).

Tools and MRV systems to monitor progress

Tools and guidance related to public procurement are increasingly available. These resources can help inform the design of these measures and quantify their impact:  

Climate change mitigation benefits

Sustainable public food procurement can increase demand for sustainable and healthy food products with lower carbon footprints while reducing demand for unsustainable, less healthy products with higher carbon footprints. This shift in demand can influence upstream food production practices (i.e. causing a greater shift to sustainable production of healthy foods) and have net-positive effect for food systems. This includes reduced GHG emissions from agri-food production and reduced emissions from land-use change and land degradation.

Other climate benefits

Shifting to more sustainable diets is expected to result in:

  • Reduced risk of eutrophication due to reduced agricultural inputs and its associated negative effects on water and air pollution. Eutrophication is the process by which aquatic systems become over-enriched with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus due to the run-off of agricultural inputs (e.g. fertilizers into water systems). 
  • Reduced acidification due to reduced inputs associated with agricultural production (e.g. fertilizers and pesticides). 
  • Improvements in soil health.
  • Improved air quality due to reduced use of fertilizers and fossil energy sources. 

Adaptation co-benefits

Depending on the design of PFP measures, potential adaptation co-benefits include:

  • Enhanced food security, health and population resilience 
  • Protected biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Reduced water pollution and groundwater protection 
  • Reduced pressure on water and land resources
  • Reduced land use change and land degradation 

Other sustainable development co-benefits

Specific co-benefits depend on the type of food that is being purchased through public procurement, but may include: 

  • High environmental sustainability associated with procurement of organic, seasonal and local foods, and procurement which reduces waste. 
  • High social sustainability associated with procurement of healthy or fair-trade food and that which is produced in safe working conditions. 
  • High economic sustainability (e.g. job creation, increased wages and general economic development) associated with procurement of local and national foods. 
  • Procurement of local and organic foods scores high on all three sustainability dimensions. 
  • Activities related to this policy objective directly contribute to achieving SDG 12.7: “Sustainable public procurement practices.” 
  • Other SDGs can also be supported by sustainable PFP policies, including:
    • SDG 1 (no poverty)
    • SDG 2 (zero hunger)
    • SDG 3 (good health and well-being)
    • SDG 4 (quality education)
    • SDG 12 (responsible/sustainable consumption and production)
    • SDG 14 (life below water)
    • SDG 15 (life on land)
Fresh ceviche for sale at the market in Puerto Montt, in southern Chile.
Fresh ceviche for sale at the market in Puerto Montt, in southern Chile.

Main implementation challenges and potential negative externalities and trade-offs

  • A high level of bureaucratic elements (i.e. technical and administrative requirements) of PFP can act as a barrier for smallholder farmers and other SMEs.
  • Socio-economic, political, and cultural sensitivities (See Introducing food-systems based dietary guidelines). 
  • Local SMEs may not have the same logistical infrastructure in place as larger food companies, so if PFP prioritizes smaller suppliers over larger ones it may increase inefficiencies and costs.

Measures to minimize challenges and address potential negative externalities and trade-offs

Implementation costs

  • A study commissioned by the German Federal Food Ministry in 2018 showed that investing in healthier food in canteens would increase the cost of a meal by just four cents per meal. The study also found that the cost per meal decreases as the size of canteens increases. 
  • A sustainable school food programme in East Ayrshire, Scotland showed that one euro spent through sustainable school meals can generate up to six euros back to the local community through employment, environmental, health and social benefits. 

Intervention in practice

  • Brazil’s school feeding procurement provides an example of a regulatory framework with specific targets and mandatory criteria in food procurement. A law approved in 2009 established that at least 30% of the national fund financing school feeding under the Brazilian National School Feeding Programme (PNAE) must be allocated to procure food from family farmers, with priority given to local family farmers, land reform settlers, traditional communities and organic producers. The programme guarantees a market for around 120,000 family farmers by waiving the requirement for these farms to go through the bidding process. The programme provides at least 30% of the daily nutritional needs for around 43 million students in Brazil. 
  • The Policy for Sustainable Development and Food of Malmö, Sweden is an example of how to set specific targets and implement SPP. Adopted in 2010, the policy aims to make high-quality food available in all public canteens, only procuring sustainable and climate-friendly products. It established targets to exclusively procure organic food by 2020 and to reduce food related GHG emissions by 40% by 2020 (compared to 2002). As of 2023, the city has reached a rate of 70% organic food in public kitchens. Food-related GHG emissions were also reduced by 30%.
  • Denmark is a prime example of successful public procurement of organic food. The country has combined public policy initiatives (e.g. procurement goals, financing, labelling and NGO capacity building) and organic sector initiatives (e.g. supply chain collaboration, organic schools for food service and education for kitchen workers).


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