Calls for consistent procurement for circular economy – white paper

More cross-sector collaboration and consistency is needed, according to MI-ROG, the Major Infrastructure – Resource Optimisation Group

Infrastructure owners should be doing more to work together on contract procurement, with criteria focused on the whole-life management of assets from the start of new projects, according to the Major Infrastructure – Resource Optimisation Group (MI-ROG). The MI-ROG group includes representatives from clients including the Environment Agency, Highways England, National Grid, Network Rail, Heathrow Airport and Tideway. In a new white paper, the group says more consistency of procurement and cross-sector evaluation of new approaches are essential for embedding circular economy principles into the design and operation of infrastructure.

Interest in the circular economy – a whole life approach with assets and materials kept at their highest value for as long as possible – is growing among infrastructure clients, according to MI-ROG. Greater adoption of the principles has huge potential to deliver cost efficiencies and positive environmental impacts, the white paper says. Designing for disassembly and reuse of worn out assets requires more effective cross-sector collaboration. Opportunity for embedding these principles is greatest at the very start of projects, so can be best driven through contract procurement and 'collective leadership', the group says.

The chair of MI-ROG, sustainability director at AECOM, Robert Spencer, said: “With many ambitious infrastructure projects and major renewal programmes in the pipeline, the UK is in an ideal position to begin its transition to the circular economy. Procurement is a critical stage of this process, but existing technical standards can stifle innovation. There are ample opportunities to identify changes in procurement procedures, but mainstreaming circular economy principles will only be achieved through cross-sector collaboration.”

In the white paper, Embedding Circular Economy Principles into Infrastructure Operator Procurement Activities, MI-ROG also says it is unrealistic to expect infrastructure clients to take on the risk of new but unproven materials or methods, so cross-sector evaluations of new solutions will be necessary.

To embed the circular economy principles at procurement stages, MI-ROG is suggesting that clients consistently ask their principal suppliers more testing questions on how they have considered and embedded whole-life principles into their bids or designs.

MI-ROG was founded by infrastructure services firm AECOM in 2013 to foster collaboration and circular economy best practice. Participants include representatives from the Environment Agency, Highways England, National Grid, Network Rail, Heathrow Airport Ltd and Tideway, among others. The group's white paper – the culmination of discussions about the risks and opportunities associated with changes in procurement processes that help promote a circular economy approach – is available here