Green purchasing policy adoption in South Korean municipalities

Government purchasing in South Korea accounts for 25.7% of country-level gross domestic product. Examples of purchases include vehicle fleets, construction materials, chemicals, electronics, and office materials. These purchases collectively contribute to global climate change and a host of other environmental concerns when manufactured and while in use. Some South Korean municipalities have implemented green purchasing policies to address the environmental impacts associated with government purchasing. A sustainable purchasing policy formalizes an organization's commitment to reducing the environmental harms related to purchasing. These policies can also improve municipalities' internal efficiencies, thus enhancing cost savings. In 2005, the South Korean government embraced the global call to action for green public procurement by implementing the Act on the Promotion of Purchase of Green products. The policy promotes sustainable lifestyles and consumption while increasing the purchase of eco-friendly products. However, at the local level, many municipal governments have struggled to implement green purchasing policies. Consequently, green purchasing has not reached its full potential to help municipalities mitigate their environmental impacts. Researchers in the Institute of Governmental Studies at Korea University partnered with Arizona State University's Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative to conduct a national survey to learn more about local governments' green purchasing activity across South Korea. The survey generated 243 responses from department directors located in 85 municipalities. The findings show that 72% of municipalities have a green purchasing policy, 7% have no policy, and 21% of responding municipalities did not know if their municipality had such a policy. The results show that five factors encourage municipalities to adopt sustainable purchasing policies: 1. Complementary Policies and Practices Complementary policies and practices are existing organizational activities that often support green purchasing. They can help reduce the costs of adopting green purchasing policies because organizations with complementary policies and practices already have a foundation in place to build their green purchasing programs. Complementary policies and practices also help create management commitment and a shared vision around similar issues. The survey results indicate that 83% of directors in municipalities with green purchasing policies also have a municipal-wide energy conservation policy, 66% reported a water conservation policy, and 80% have a greenhouse gas emission policy. In general, municipalities with complementary policies are more likely to report adopting green purchasing policies. 2. Purchasing Criteria Purchasing criteria are the factors a municipality considers when selecting a good or service. When asked about the importance of environmental factors on their purchasing criteria, municipalities with green purchasing policies report that over 69% have greenhouse gas impact criteria, 66% have recycling and reuse criteria, and 66% have environmental impacts criteria. When compared to municipalities that lack green purchasing policies, the importance of the same purchasing criteria is 42%, 48%, and 41%, respectively. 3. Information Access Access to helpful information can influence purchasing decisions. More than three-quarters (76%) of directors with green purchasing policies (compared to 49% without green purchasing policies) report having a green product/service list available to their departments when making a purchasing decision. Similarly, 78% with green purchasing policies (compared to 49% of municipalities without green purchasing policies) have access to product ecolabel/certification information when making purchasing decisions. These findings suggest that directors in municipalities with green purchasing policies have greater access to environmental information sources when making purchasing decisions than in municipalities without a green purchasing policy. 4. Leadership, Employees, and Resources Leadership, employees, and resources are critical elements in adopting organizational policies. Municipalities with a green purchasing policy report that top management (67%), employee attitudes (70%), and financial resources (71%) facilitate their ability to implement green purchasing policies. While about half of municipalities without a green purchase policy also think that such options facilitate the adoption of green purchasing. 5. Vendor Roles Vendor Roles refer to how municipalities engage with their vendors over time. About 54% of municipalities with green purchasing policies indicate that their vendors offer environmentally friendly products/services, compared to 37% in municipalities without these policies. Similarly, nearly 46% of municipalities with green purchasing policies indicate that vendors help them learn about environmentally sustainable purchasing options compared with 36% in municipalities without green purchasing policies. Vendor collaborations appear to facilitate the municipalities' adoption of sustainable purchasing policies and likely have a bearing on their ultimate success. These five factors differentiate South Korean local governments with a sustainable purchasing policy from those that don't. They encourage other local governments to adopt sustainable purchasing policies. Doing so would help more South Korean municipalities move toward a more sustainable economy. To learn more, read the full report findings here. Source: Choi, H., H.J. Kim, H.A. Jeon, H. Yim, A. Elovitz, M. Dubois, Y. Chen, N. Darnall, J.M. Stritch, and S. Bretschneider. 2022. Advancing Green Purchasing in South Korean Municipalities. Arizona State University, Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative.