Better known for being one of the world’s most bicycle-friendly cities, in recent times, Copenhagen has also expressed its commitment to the environment through its growing gastronomy scene. The city has developed a strong repertoire of restaurants and urban producers focusing on seasonality and locality, and it’s made a name for itself in food procurement. “Copenhagen aims to be a green, healthy, and vital food city; however, this requires systemic change,” says Jakob Næsager, Mayor for Children and Youth in Copenhagen.
The Danish national context has been propitious, as the Official Dietary Guidelines, which instruct Danes on healthy eating, address climate-related challenges associated with the current food system for the first time and point towards the potential and power of public food procurement.
At the local level, a key initiative has been the climate strategy embedded within the Copenhagen Food Strategy, which includes a carbon emission reduction target of 25 % by 2025 within total procurement in the public sphere.
“Public food procurement has the capability to holistically transform food systems”— Jakob Næsager, Copenhagen Mayor for Children and Youth
Public food procurement has the capability to transform food systems holistically,” says Næsager. “For example, it can support vulnerable citizens and SMEs, shorten supply chains, uphold climate responsibility, and ensure access to healthy food.”
The Children and Youth Administration is responsible for food procurement in Copenhagen and pushes to make it more sustainable, for example, by favouring lower CO2-impact meals, championing the protein transition, reducing food waste, and increasing accessibility for SMEs to bid on tenders.
Preparing the soil
Since 2001, Copenhagen has introduced organic food by upskilling and motivating kitchen staff and ensuring they have the necessary knowledge to cook and bake from scratch. All public kitchens – approximately 1,000 – must reach a 90% organic target in their procurement. Thanks to its widespread training programmes, Copenhagen hit the 84% mark in 2019 and keeps moving forward.
Thanks to its efforts towards organic conversion, the city realised multiple benefits. They have created a generation of more skilled and motivated cooks who prepare more nutritious and healthy food for people eating public meals and generate less food waste.
The new, sustainable meal culture in public kitchens has influenced attitudes in both employees and locals and has the potential to change habits towards healthier and greener meals. By demanding more organic products in its tenders, Copenhagen’s organic market offer has tripled since 2015, generating a robust supply of regional food at the wholesale level.
The city, however, didn’t want to stop there; by joining the EU-funded Food Trails project, it chose to share its knowledge on food procurement with other cities and to set new rules to make it easier for public institutions to serve healthier, sustainable meals without stating what food must be served.
“Public procurement continues to transform the urban food system towards a healthier, tastier and more climate-responsible meal for all Copenhageners through innovative sustainability criteria in our tenders,” highlights Næsager.
Concretely, the municipality ran four local pilots through the Food Trails project. The first collects information on the process of the Procurement Policy development in Copenhagen and provides a checklist for replication in other cities.
The second is a calculation tool to understand the impact of the protein transition factoring in data on finance, public meal, and dietary guidelines—the third and fourth focus on creating teaching material and improving communication with kitchen staff.
Bringing proof to policy
“Describing how procurement policy is made, how it links with the overall food strategy and other local strategies is important,” says Betina Bergmann Madsen, Expert in innovative sustainable public food procurement in Copenhagen.
Long-term, this pilot will increase and improve the integration of political goals such as sustainability criteria in the City of Copenhagen’s Procurement Policy; this will help identify if such criteria make a difference in systemically changing the food system towards more sustainable food.
“Our target is to write procurement contracts that are implementable and that the targets set in the contract can be documented in a measurable way.
The market is still not ready to meet this demand to the fullest, and it needs a continuous focus and close work co-creation with the winning supplier, so the needed documentation can be created in a manner that gives the most insight into the subject they are tackling,” explains Bergmann Madsen.
“Our target is to write procurement contracts that are implementable”— Betina Bergmann Madsen, procurement expert
The results from this pilot will be helpful to other cities interested in using procurement as a tool for change. Within the Food Trails project framework, “I visited the other cities and talked about how you can use procurement as a tool to incorporate some of the goals you have in your city,” says Bergmann Madsen.
In addition to mapping how procurement is done in Copenhagen, the city’s reallocation calculation tool will also help to improve the future tender list of goods including the requirements in tender materials and improve accuracy in price adjustments for municipal budget decisions.
“We calculate the impact of going from a meat-based diet to a plant-based one. I am interested in what it costs to buy differently,” Bergmann Madsen explains. “How much more does it cost to do this in the kitchen? Does it need more working force? Etc.”
“I am interested in what it costs to buy differently“— Betina Bergmann Madsen, procurement expert
The reallocation calculation model establishes a baseline of what is eaten and its price. It will be used to consider the financial consequences of changing the dietary guidelines, which will result in securing an accurate budget for public meals.
A simple innovation in Copenhagen’s tenders is that these include an educational criterion. “We strengthen farm-to-school programmes, connecting local farmers to children as educators in sustainable food production,” says Næsager.
This means, for example, that in a tender about potatoes, Copenhagen asked bidding farmers to create learning tools and opportunities. “Children received a kit to grow potatoes in the school, and they visited a large-scale farm producing potatoes, and hopefully, they will link the two experiences,” says Bergmann Madsen.
Researchers are collaborating with the city to follow the pilot’s development and identify whether children become more interested in becoming farmers after having lived this experience or at least gain a greater respect for the food that they are served and eat with the newly earned knowledge about how long it takes to produce the food.
This specific example will also produce a movie, which, together with the implementation guideline and the replication tool, will make it easier to replicate elsewhere.
Collecting feedback and spreading the word
The Copenhagen Food Trails team has strong expertise in innovative and green public procurement practices and access and connections to relevant food system actors in the municipality. One of these actors is the kitchen staff; maintaining an open communication channel with them is essential.
“In Copenhagen, we have around 1,100 units of kitchen staff, this makes it difficult to communicate, and I know other cities have this problem,” explains Bergmann Madsen. “So, we are creating an app for kitchen staff to give us feedback.” This includes the quality of the goods they receive from the supplier, issues with packaging or transport, etc.
Better dialogue between kitchen staff and procurement officers will result in more knowledge sharing to support the change towards more sustainable food in public meals through procurement.
All the work that Copenhagen is doing will feed into the Food Trails project and continue to bare fruits, “building the capacities of national and European public food procurers through establishing strong networks where knowledge, experience and best practices can be shared,” says Næsager. Hence, cities play “a key role in our collective responsibility towards a greener and more inclusive society,” he concludes.