Sustainable purchasing implementation success in Australia

Australian city on a partly cloudy day

By: Elizabeth Bruns, Nicole Darnall, Kylie Flynn, Angela Fox

Australia’s government purchasing accounts for 36.2% of the country’s gross domestic product. Examples of purchases include construction material, chemicals, vehicle fleets, office materials, and electronics. These purchases collectively contribute to global climate change and a host of other environmental concerns during their manufacturing and use. Many Australian municipalities are adopting sustainable purchasing policies to reduce their environmental impacts. A sustainable purchasing policy formalizes an organization’s commitment to reduce the environmental harms associated with purchasing and procurement.

Because of the potential benefits of sustainable purchasing, in 2018, Australia’s national government created the Sustainable Procurement Guide, which outlines sustainable purchasing principles and guides local governments through implementation. 

However, Local Australian governments are not required to adopt sustainable procurement and, as a result, participation in this type of policy implementation is low. The municipalities that implement a green purchasing policy can experience significant implementation hurdles, even with guidance from the Sustainable Procurement guide. Low adoption rates and difficulties with implementation are concerns identified by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Resolving these challenges will help create a more sustainable economy.

UNSW Business School partnered with Arizona State University’ Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative to conduct a national survey of 299 Australian municipality managers with 10,000 residents or more to learn more about their green purchasing policy adoptions and implementations. Of the municipalities that had adopted green purchasing policies, 61% indicated that their municipalities had successfully implemented their policy. The study also shows that five factors fuel the success of Australian municipalities’ green purchasing:

1. Complementary Policies and Practices

A municipality’s complementary policies and practices are the existing initiatives that can support sustainable purchasing policy. They are a foundation for successful adoption and implementation because they have similar internal capabilities to manage each initiative. They also create management commitment and a shared vision around similar issues. For example, the managers who noted a municipal-wide sustainability policy report an 86% increase in sustainable purchasing success. By contrast, municipalities that do not have a municipal-wide sustainability policy report only a 53% likelihood of successfully implementing their sustainable purchasing policy. 

2. Information Access

Since access to helpful information shapes purchasing decisions, it is no surprise to learn that directors in municipalities who reported the successful implementation of a green purchasing policy were more likely to have access to relevant environmental information. When a municipality has access to the environmental impacts that result from their purchases, green purchasing success jumps from 33% (without access) to 74%. Similar increases in implementation success are associated with the presence of green product/service lists, tracking of spending on environmental products and services, and access to an online database of green products and services.

3. Leadership and Implementation Responsibility

Municipality leadership support is critical for the adoption of their sustainable purchasing policies. When top leadership is responsible for implementing environmental practices, the probability of green purchasing success improves. Municipalities were also significantly more likely to have improve green purchasing success when assigned to mid-level managers and staff employees, improving implementation success between 25% – 33%. The findings suggest that accountability at all levels is critical to implementation success.

4. Vendor Roles 

Vendors appear to be an essential ally to the municipality’s successful implementation of their green purchasing policies. When vendors offer environmentally friendly products and services, municipalities’ sustainable purchasing success increases by 36%. This finding points to the importance of vendor collaborations when municipalities implement their sustainable purchasing policies.

5. Innovation Culture

An organization’s culture results from leadership and employee values, norms, messages, and behaviors. Strong cultures for innovation encourage organizational change and openness to new ideas. While innovative culture is not related to adopting a green purchasing policy, it is related to successfully implementing these policies. Moreover, implementation success increases from 42% to 59% when municipalities reward employees for developing innovative solutions. 

These findings shed light on why some Australian municipalities are more successful than others at implementing green public purchasing policies. Municipalities worldwide can learn from these best practices to implement or strengthen their own green purchasing policies. To learn more, read the full report findings found at

Author notes:
Elizabeth Bruns is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Sustainability at at Arizona State University’s (ASU’s). She is exploring interests in urban farming and economic development. She plans to pursue an MS in Sustainability Leadership after her graduation in December 2020.

Nicole Darnall is Associate Dean at ASU’s College of Global Futures and Associate Director and Professor at ASU’s School of Sustainability. She is Co-founder of ASU’s Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative.

Kylie Flynn is completing her Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability at ASU with minors in Digital Culture and Parks and Protected Area Management. She is a Communications Intern for ASU’s Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative.

Angela Fox is completing her Master of Arts in Sustainability at ASU. She is interested in sustainability behaviors around social change.

Lukacs de Pereny, S., Schwarz, G., Carter, L., Chen, Y., Darnall, N., Stritch, J.M., and Bretschneider, S. 2020. Advancing Green Purchasing in Australian Municipalities. UNSW Business School and Arizona State University, Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative.