Five actions to advance green purchasing in Italian municipalities

Rolling Italian countryside

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

Italian local government purchases account for 10-11% of the gross domestic product. Examples of purchases include vehicle fleets, construction materials, chemicals, electronics, and office materials. These items are a significant contributor to global climate change and other environmental concerns during manufacturing and use. Implementing green purchasing policies can significantly curb governmental contributions to negative environmental impacts while stimulating the global production of green products and services.

Green purchasing policies include formal legal frameworks, ordinances, executive orders, resolutions, and administrative directives that reduce adverse effects on the environment. They also include formal approaches, such as creating a green committee, adding green purchasing language to existing sustainability plans, or energy conservation policies.

Many Italian municipal governments have struggled to implement green purchasing policies at the local level, even while being mandated by the Italian government. Consequently, green purchasing has not reached its full potential to help municipalities mitigate their environmental impacts.

To examine this issue further, 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 of Italian municipal department directors in finance, environmental, and municipal engineering. The survey generated 152 individual responses from 395 municipalities with 25,000 residents or more. The survey results show that 20% of directors reported that their municipalities have a green purchasing policy; 34% reported they have no policy, and 45% did not know if their municipality had such a policy. Given the low rates of green purchasing adoption, there are significant hurdles in implementing green purchasing policies for local municipalities. The study identifies five actions that facilitate local Italian governments’ green purchasing efforts.

Action 1 - Build on complementary policies and practices

About four-fifths of the municipalities reported that they either did not have a green purchasing policy or did not know whether one existed. However, many of these municipalities have developed important complementary policies and programs to facilitate green purchasing adoption and implementation success. These complementary policies include greenhouse gas emissions, water conservation, and energy conservation. In other instances, municipalities have set goals/targets for environmental performance. All of these sustainability initiatives are associated with the successful implementation of green purchasing policies. Municipalities that have implemented complementary policies and activities are in a strong position to adopt a green purchasing policy.

For Italian municipalities that already have a green purchasing policy, having also adopted complementary policies and activities puts them in a stronger position to improve the implementation success of their purchasing policy. That is because the internal capabilities necessary for managing both types of initiatives are either similar or related. Complementary policies and practices also help create management commitment and shared vision around similar issues, reduce the cost of green purchasing adoption, and facilitate the overall implementational success of green purchasing policies.

Action 2 - Use information about environmentally preferred products

Access to environmental information aids in green purchasing efforts. Roughly three-fourths of the municipalities with green purchasing polices report that they can access environmental information to implement these policies. Such information includes access to product ecolabels/certifications and online databases of environmentally friendly products and services. In the absence of this information, municipalities have greater difficulties implementing green purchasing.

Environmental labels and certifications are critical information mechanisms that facilitate green purchasing, which is why they are also a component of Italy’s National Action Plan on Green Public Procurement. Italian municipalities, therefore, are uniquely advantaged in identifying and purchasing green products. As a result, municipalities with green purchasing plans were more likely to use environmental labels and certifications in decision making.

Action 3 - Track spending related to green purchases

Municipalities that track their green purchase spending are more likely to elevate the importance of green 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. Other tracking approaches might involve monitoring the quantity of the environmentally friendly products purchased. Whatever the approach, monitoring green purchases creates opportunities for municipalities to develop goals and targets around green purchasing and appropriately recognize departments and employees who meet or exceed (or fail 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. Since the Italian government requires e-procurement systems, almost all municipalities indicated one's existence within their department. These systems put Italian municipalities in an excellent position to integrate tracking features into their systems and to account for green procurement activity.

Action 4 - Assign responsibility to top-level management

Municipalities indicate that top-management involvement is more critical to the successful implementation of green purchasing than financial resources. Leadership embracement in the adoption and implementation of green purchasing policies will build momentum and commitment. Municipalities that wish to implement a successful green purchasing policy should consider the leadership's role and assign that responsibility to top-level managers.

Action 5 - Participate in professional networks to share best practices

Finally, as more municipalities develop their green purchasing programs, an opportunity is created to learn from their best practices. Professional networks such as the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI), Procura+ Network, and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have emerged to support green purchasing in municipalities, companies, and other organizations. Participating in these networks can help members gain access to critical information to introduce or strengthen green purchasing initiatives. Professional networks often provide learning opportunities through training webinars and conferences; municipalities can avoid hurdles that others have encountered. Networks can also inform municipalities of external support, such as grants, educational programs, and awards/recognitions that can help develop a green purchasing policy and its successful implementation.

Italian municipalities that adopt green purchasing policies are poised to address their environmental problems and save money. The five actions described above can help other Italian municipalities and local governments worldwide further advance their green purchasing efforts. 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.

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.