Green purchasing policy adoption in Australian municipalities

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

Government purchasing in Australia accounts for 36.2% of the country's total gross domestic product. Examples of these purchases include vehicle fleets, construction material, chemicals, electronics, and office materials. Collectively, these items contribute to global climate change and a host of other environmental concerns. Some municipalities are implementing sustainable purchasing policies to reduce their negative impacts.

Sustainable purchasing policies formalize an organization's commitment to reduce its environmental harms associated with purchasing. In addition to improving environmental conditions, these policies can improve an organization's internal efficiencies, which leads to cost savings. Indeed, these important benefits are why Australia's national government published its 2018 Sustainable Procurement Guide.

Sustainable procurement policies are not required in Australia, and as a result, many local governments are choosing not to implement them. This is a concern that the United Nations Environmental Programme, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and others have suggested must be resolved to move toward an environmentally sustainable economy. 

To determine which factors, encourage Australian local governments to adopt sustainable purchasing policies, researchers at UNSW Business School partnered with Arizona State University’s Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative to conduct a national survey of 299 Australian municipality managers with 10,000 residents or more. The results show that five factors encourage municipalities to adopt sustainable purchasing policies:

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 commitment and create a shared vision around similar issues. These elements help local governments embed green purchasing deeper into their routine operations. Indeed, municipalities with complementary policies are significantly more likely to report the successful implementation of green purchasing than those without such policies.

2. Purchasing criteria

Purchasing criteria are the factors that purchasing officers consider when deciding to procure a good or service. Depending on the product category, municipalities that emphasize the importance of environmental concerns are between 35% and 68% more likely to adopt sustainable purchasing policies than municipalities that lack these policies. For instance, municipalities that consider the environmental impacts as being important for their wood and paper product purchases were 62% more likely to adopt sustainable purchasing policies. By contrast, municipalities that did not regard these environmental concerns as being important were only 37% as likely to adopt a sustainable purchasing policy. Additionally, 60% of municipalities that consider the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions were more likely to adopt sustainable purchasing policies compared to only 19% of municipalities without these policies.

3. Information access

Access to helpful information influences purchasing decisions and outcomes. Therefore, it may come as no surprise that information about green products influences green purchasing. Indeed, municipalities with access to a green product/service list when making purchasing decisions are 40% more likely to have a sustainable purchasing policy. By contrast, in the absence of green product/service lists, only 2% of municipalities adopt sustainable purchasing policies.

4. Leadership and resources

Leadership and resources are critical elements in the adoption of organizational policies. Municipalities that report having top-level management support for sustainable purchasing are 62% more likely to implement sustainable purchasing policy. In the absence of this support, only 26% of municipalities adopt a sustainable purchasing policy. While financial resources are also relevant, the research shows that top-level management, awards/recognition programs, educational programs, and voluntary programs are more successful.

5. Vendor roles

Vendor roles refer to the municipality's supplier relationships. About half of municipalities that report having a green purchasingt policy agree that their vendors offer environmentally friendly products/services compared to only 11% of municipalities that lack a sustainable purchasing policy. Vendors that provide green products and services and inform municipalities about them can significantly impact the municipalities' adoption of sustainable purchasing policies. 

These five factors differentiate Australian local governments that have a sustainable purchasing policy from those that don't. They may be used to encourage other local governments to adopt sustainable purchasing policies. Doing so would help more Australian municipalities move toward a more sustainable economy. To learn more, read the full report findings 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.