Japanese green purchasing implementation success

Orange Train in Japanese City

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

In Japan, sustainable purchasing policies are required at the national and federal level. To assist, Japan’s Ministry of Environment has developed guidelines for "green" or environmentally conscious purchasing. At the municipal level, however, anecdotal evidence suggests that implementation is inconsistent, which means they are missing important opportunities to improve the environment.

Japan's government purchasing accounts for 19.8% of the gross domestic product. Purchases include vehicle fleets, construction materials, chemicals, electronics, and office materials, to name a few. Collectively, these items are significant contributors to global climate change and other environmental concerns. Implementing green purchasing policies can significantly curb governmental environmental impacts at the local, national, and global scale. Green purchasing also stimulates the global production of green products and services. A green purchasing policy refers to the set of activities undertaken by an organization to implement purchasing that reduces adverse effects on the environment.

To address these concerns, researchers at Waseda University's Research Institute for Environmental Economics and Management partnered with Arizona State University's Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative to conduct a national survey of 860 municipalities with 25,000 residents or more. While the results show that 53% of Japanese department directors reported that their municipalities had adopted green purchasing policies, one-third (34%) indicate that their policy was unsuccessful. These findings indicate that there are significant barriers to municipalities implementing green purchasing policies. The study identifies five important factors related to Japanese municipalities’ green purchasing success:

1. Complementary policies and practices

Complementary policies and practices are formalized procedures that can facilitate green purchasing and increase the likely success because similar internal capabilities are needed to manage each initiative. They also enhance management’s commitment and create a shared vision around similar issues. These similarities embed green purchasing deeper into a municipality's routine operations. In general, municipalities with complementary policies are more likely to report the successful implementation of green purchasing policies than those without such policies. Additionally, the probability of successfully implementing a green purchasing policy increases in the presence of a greenhouse gas emission policy, a water conservation policy, or an energy conservation policy. One of the leading indicators of success is if a municipality has hired an environmental sustainability director. Hiring a sustainability director increases the successful implementation of green purchasing policies from 37% to 64%. The presence of an environmental sustainability committee, goals and targets for environmental performance, and discussions on green purchasing policies across units also increases the probability of green purchasing success.

2. Information access

Informational access shapes green purchasing decisions. Directors in municipalities that reported the successful implementation of green purchasing policies were more likely to access relevant environmental information. Access to information about a products' environmental impacts increases the probability of implementation success from 39% to 65%. When a municipality has access to a green product or service list, it aids in tracking environment products and services spending. Access to online databases of environmental products and services increases implementation success by between 42% and 65% for Japanese municipalities. These findings suggest that access to environmental information sources helps facilitate the implementation success of green purchasing policies.

3. Leadership and implementation responsibility

Leadership is the third factor that increases municipalities' implementation success of green purchasing policies. When top leadership is responsible for implementing the department's environmental practices, the probability of successfully implementing green purchasing policy increases from 37% to 62%. Municipalities were also significantly more likely to have successful green purchasing implementation when mid-level managers and staff employees had responsibility for policy implementation. 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, successful implementation increases from 50% to 68%. Similarly, when vendors help a municipality learn about sustainable purchasing options, their success rate increases from 51% to 63%. These findings point to the potential importance of collaborative relationships with vendors where municipalities can learn more about vendor products and how those products can further reduce environmental impacts.3s

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. Japan municipality directors reported a 96% increased probability of implementation success when the department is strongly committed to innovation. Rewarding employees for developing innovative solutions increase implementation success from 48% to 65%.

These findings shed light on why some Japanese municipalities are more successful than others at implementing green public purchasing policies. Municipalities worldwide can learn from these successful Japanese governments and learn from these best practices to facilitiate their own green purchasing activities. To learn more, read the full report findings found at https://sustainability.asu.edu/spri/japan.

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.

Darnall, N., T. Arimura, T. Miyomoto, J.M. Stritch, S. Bretschneider, and L. Hsueh. 2018. Advancing Green Purchasing in Japanese Municipalities. Arizona State University, Center for Organization Research and Design, Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative and Waseda University, Research Institute for Environmental Economics and Management.