Increasing green purchasing success in Italian municipalities

Old world Italian city view

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

Italy was the first country in the European Union to mandate green purchasing protocols across all levels of government. The National Action Plan on Green Public Procurement sets guidelines and offers definitions on green purchasing for Italian municipalities. In Italy, government purchasing accounts for 10 - 11% of the country's gross domestic product. Examples of purchases include construction materials, chemicals, vehicle fleets, office materials, and electronics. These purchases are significant contributors to global climate change and other environmental concerns during their manufacturing and while in use.

When successfully implemented, green purchasing policies can significantly reduce carbon impacts and help Italy achieve its carbon emissions goals. These policies include formal legal frameworks, ordinances, executive orders, resolutions, and administrative directives. Successful, green purchasing policies can also stimulate the global production of green products and services by creating large scale demand, therefore, reducing environmental harms like greenhouse gases and solid waste. Green purchasing can also increase internal efficiencies. Switching to LED bulbs, for example, will lead to significant cost savings by reducing energy. Italian cities that have succeeded in adopting green purchasing policies also receive recognition as environmental leaders contributing to Italy's overarching goals.

However, adopting a green purchasing policy does not necessarily mean that implementation is successful. 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. The survey questioned various directors in finance, environmental, and municipal engineering departments in 395 Italian municipalities with 25,000 residents or more on their green purchasing policy.

According to the department directors surveyed, 20% of Italian municipalities have implemented a green purchasing policy, most (84%) indicated successful implementation. These key commonalities emerged for the municipalities that reported implementation success:

1. Complementary policies and practices

Current policies and practices that focus on sustainability initiatives can help implement new green purchasing policies. Policies or practices in energy or water conservation, for example strengthens a municipality's commitment and shared vision around similar issues, further embedding sustainability into routine operations and culture. In general, directors in municipalities that have complementary policies in place are equally likely to report successful implementation of their green purchasing policy than those without such policies. In Particular, setting goals and targets for environmental performance on complementary policies and practices increases the success of green purchasing policies.

2. Leadership and implementation responsibility

Leadership plays a critical role in the adoption and implementation of organizational policies, such as green purchasing. When department directors answered that top managers are responsible for implementing the department's environmental practices, the implementation success increases to 96%. Directors are also more likely to report implementation success when their employees are also responsible for implementing environmental sustainability policies. These findings underscore the importance of accountability throughout the organization.

3. 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. Italian municipality directors reported a 96% increase in implementation success when the department is strongly committed to innovation. This is true even if they are less likely to reward their employees for innovative solutions, concluding that innovative thinking is a vital part of the culture.

These findings shed light on why some Italian municipalities are more successful than others at implementing green public purchasing policies. Municipalities worldwide can learn from these successful Italian governments and their best practices to implement or strengthen their own green purchasing policies. 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.

Angela Fox is completing her Master of Arts in Sustainability at ASU. She is interested in sustainability behaviors around social change.

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.

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.