7 ways Australian municipalities can increase the success of their sustainable purchasing policies

Australian cafe patio

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

Why is government purchasing so important? In Australia, it accounts for roughly 36.2% of the country's gross domestic product. Examples of purchases include vehicle fleets, construction material, chemicals, electronics, and office materials. These purchases collectively contribute to global climate change and a host of other environmental concerns associated with raw material sourcing, production, use, and disposal.

Some Australian municipalities have implemented sustainable purchasing policies to reduce their climate impacts. A sustainable purchasing policy formalizes an organization's commitment to reduce the environmental harms related to purchasing. These policies can also improve municipalities' internal efficiencies, thus enhancing cost savings. While Australia has developed sustainable purchasing guidelines with its Sustainable Procurement Guide, some local municipalities still have not adopted sustainable purchasing policies.

To help reduce the barriers associated with municipalities' sustainable purchasing, researchers at UNSW Business School, in partnership with Arizona State University’s Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative, conducted a national survey of managers within 299 Australian municipalities. The survey results identify seven key factors that facilitate the successful implementation of municipalities' sustainable purchasing policies.

1. Build on Complementary Policies and Practices

A municipality's complementary policies and practices are the existing organizational initiatives that can support sustainable purchasing implementation. These policies and practices also help reduce the costs of adopting green purchasing policies because they serve as a foundational resource. Additionally, complementary policies and practices help enhance management commitment and create a shared vision around similar issues.

Policies that are complementary to sustainable purchasing include greenhouse gas emissions policies, water conservation policies, and energy conservation policies. Each of these policies, when implemented, increases a municipalities' sustainable purchasing success. Complementary programs and initiatives that are related to increasing municipalities' sustainable purchasing success include:

  • Hiring environmental sustainability directors
  • Creating cross-departmental environmental sustainability committees
  • Setting goals/targets for environmental performance
  • Training all municipality employees on environmental concerns
  • Implementing internal audits of environmental performance
  • Use Information about Environmentally Preferred Products

2. Use Information about Environmentally Preferred Products

Access to helpful information is critical to the decision-making process. Municipalities with access to environmental information further increased the implementation success of their sustainable purchasing policies. Such information includes access to product ecolabels/certifications, green product lists, and online databases of environmentally friendly products and services.

3. Track Spending Related to Green Purchases

Municipalities that track their green purchase spending are more likely to embrace the importance of sustainable purchasing in organizational routines and practices. Additionally, by tracking spending related to green purchases, municipalities are better positioned to reduce costs associated with energy, water, fuel, and other expenditures. Monitoring green purchases creates opportunities for municipalities to develop goals and targets around sustainable purchasing and appropriately recognize departments and employees who meet or exceed (or failing to meet) green purchasing expectations. Ideally, the tracking of green purchases should be integrated into an e-procurement system to assess green product attributes throughout the procurement process and as part of the contract management process.

4. Enhance Collaborative Vendor Relationships

Vendors can serve as useful allies that can educate municipalities about sustainable purchasing options. Vendors collaborations have an important role in a municipalities' adoption of sustainable purchasing policies and increases the probability of implementation success.

6. Foster a Culture for Innovation

Municipalities can further the success of their sustainable purchasing policy implementation by using employee incentives to create innovative solutions around green purchasing. Incentives can help create a culture that fosters and rewards creativity and problem-solving. Incentives include internal recognitions and creative competitions among (or across) departments. Moreover, employees should be encouraged to apply for external awards that cultivate an innovative culture and further embed green purchasing in the municipality's routines and practices.

7. Participate in Professional Networks to Share Best Practices

Municipalities learn from best practices by participating in professional networks. For instance, the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, Australasian Procurement and Construction Council, and ICLEI Oceania support sustainable purchasing in municipalities, companies, and other organizations. Further, professional networks often provide best practice learning through training webinars and conferences. As a result, municipalities can avoid implementation hurdles already encountered by their peers. Networks can also inform municipalities about grants, educational programs, and recognitions.

These findings offer critical information about the factors that facilitate Australian municipalities' sustainable purchasing success. To learn more, read the full report findings found at https://sustainability.asu.edu/spri/australia.

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.