Why are Italian municipalities adopting green purchasing policies?

Orange train car on Italian street

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

Italian government purchases account for 10 – 11% of the country’s gross domestic product. Examples of these purchases include chemicals, construction materials, vehicle fleets, electronics, and office materials. Research shows that these purchases are significant contributors to global climate change and a host of other environmental concerns during manufacturing and when in use. For this reason, Italy passed the National Action Plan on Green Public Procurement to implement purchasing initiatives that reduce environmental impacts. While the plan has a minimum criteria requirement, implementing Green purchasing policies will increase Italy’s adoption at the local level and help achieve its National Action Plan goals to reduce environmental impacts.

Despite the requirements, many Italian local governments are struggling to implement green purchasing policies. Green purchasing policies consist of formal policies such as legal frameworks, ordinances, executive orders, resolutions, and administrative directives. They also include less-formal approaches that involve adding green purchasing criteria to existing or complementary policies.

Researchers at the Institute of Management at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna partnered with Arizona State University’s Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative to conduct a national survey to address these implementation concerns. They surveyed directors in finance, environmental, and engineering departments of 395 Italian municipalities with 25,000 residents or more to learn more about their green purchasing efforts. When asked whether their local municipality has a current policy regarding green purchasing in place, 20% of directors reported that they do have a policy; 34% reported they have no policy, and 45% did not know if they had such a policy. Four factors emerged aiding in successful purchasing policy implementation: complementary policies and practices, purchasing criteria, access to information, and the roles vendors play.

Complementary Policies and Practices offer a foundation to build a green purchasing program. The survey findings show that, compared to municipalities that do not have a green purchasing policy, those that do, are more likely also to have:

  1. A municipal-wide environmental sustainability policy
  2. Green building policies
  3. Formal goals/targets for environmental performance

Having these supportive policies and practices can help facilitate implementation and often reduce costs because they have a foundation established to build their green purchasing programs. Complementary policies and practices also help create management commitment and shared vision around similar issues.

Purchasing Criteria are the factors considered when deciding to purchase a good or service. When asked about the importance of environmental factors on their purchasing criteria, municipalities with green purchasing policies report that over four-fifths (81%) have greenhouse gas impact criteria, 84% have recycling and reuse criteria, and 97% have environmental impacts criteria. When comparing to municipalities that lack green purchasing policies, the importance of the same purchasing criteria is 38%, 54%, and 62%, respectively. 

Information Access includes the resources a municipality has available to guide or influence their purchasing efforts. More than three-quarters (77%) of directors with green purchasing policies (compared to 38% without green purchasing policies) report having a green product/service list available to their departments when making a purchasing decision. Similarly, 87% with green purchasing policies (compared to 48% of municipalities without green purchasing policies) have access to product ecolabel/certification information when making purchasing decisions. These findings suggest that directors in municipalities with green purchasing policies have greater access to and rely on environmental information sources when making purchasing decisions than municipalities without green purchasing policies.

Vendor Roles refer to how municipalities engage with their vendors over time. About 71% of directors in municipalities agree that many vendors offer environmentally friendly products/services. Moreover, directors who report their vendors as influential in promoting environmentally friendly practices are more likely to adopt green public procurement than municipalities that report their vendors as less influential. These findings point to the vendors’ valuable role in facilitating the adoption of green purchasing policies.

Increasingly, municipalities across the world are incurring greater pressure to address their environmental impacts. Sustainable purchasing policies are one significant way to respond. The research conducted on Italian municipalities underscores several key facilitating factors for green purchasing adoption and implementation success. These findings can apply to both cities that lack a green purchasing policy and cities that wish to strengthen their existing green purchasing initiatives. To learn more, read the full report findings found at https://sustainability.asu.edu/spri/italy.

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.

Testa, F., F. Iraldo, F. Iannone, A. Wilkerson, Y. Chen, N. Darnall, J.M. Stritch, and S. Bretschneider. 2020. Advancing Green Purchasing in Italian Municipalities. Sant’ Anna School of Advanced Studies, Institute of Management, and Arizona State University, Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative