Seven recommendations to advance green purchasing in Spanish municipalities

In Spain, government purchasing accounts for 18.5% of total gross domestic product. These purchases of vehicle fleets, construction materials, chemicals, electronics, and office materials contribute to global climate change and other environmental concerns during their lifecycles. As a result, the national government has pledged its commitment to the European Union’s Green Public Procurement criteria and has published a Presidential Order approving the General State Administration’s Green Public Procurement Plan.

This plan, published in 2019, includes objectives of acquiring goods with the least environmental impact and guaranteeing a more rational and economical use of public funds. It applies to the General State Administration, its autonomous bodies, and the Social Security management entities. However, local governments are not required to implement green procurement, and municipal participation in green purchasing is low.

In order to learn more about green purchasing implementation in Spain, The University of Granada has partnered with Arizona State University’s Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative to conduct a national survey of department directors in Spain. SPRI surveyed municipalities with over 20,000 residents by contacting 2,475 individuals from 397 municipalities. SPRI received responses from 41 directors in 41 municipalities, and our sample was representative of all Spanish municipalities based on their mean income and location.

Only 35% (14 total) of directors who responded reported that their municipality had a green purchasing policy, and of that 35%, 57% (8 total) indicated that their policy implementation was successful.

While these numbers are concerning, we identified key factors associated with green purchasing adoption and success and created seven recommendations to advance green purchasing.

1. Build on complementary policies and practices

Municipalities that have implemented complementary environmental practices are much more likely to adopt green purchasing policies and experience implementation success. Setting goals and targets for environmental performance alone sees a 40% increase for municipalities with green purchasing policies. Having a municipal-wide environmental sustainability policy increases the likelihood of successful implementation of a green purchasing policy from 22 to 41 percent.

Municipalities are more likely to adopt green purchasing policies when they have implemented complementary environmental practices such as setting goals and targets for environmental performance, publishing environmental sustainability reports, and internal environmental performance audits with green purchasing policies. These practices also relate to the implementation success of municipalities’ green purchasing policies, indicating the importance of developing these policies and practices to ensure a strong green purchasing program.

2. Use information about environmentally preferred products

Even for simple decisions, information is critical in the decision-making process. 64% of directors in municipalities with green purchasing policies reported having access to green product and service lists. In comparison, only 15% of directors in municipalities without green purchasing policies reported that they had access.

Municipalities may not utilize this information because they do not have the resources to identify green products independently. However, there are a variety of external resources that municipalities can utilize. The European Commission provides a wealth of information on procurement with links to resources on different products and guidelines on green procurement. Additionally, the Community Eco-Managements and Audit Scheme provides consultations with companies that have environmental management systems.

3. Utilize e-procurement systems that integrate environmental product information

There is a high prevalence of e-procurement systems in municipalities with green purchasing policies. However, the same is not true for municipalities without green purchasing policies. Even in those municipalities with e-procurement systems, directors still reported that they generally do not have access to the environmental impacts of products, green product lists, and online databases of environmentally friendly products and services. Simply utilizing an e-procurement system to facilitate green purchasing is less effective unless the system is integrated with environmental product information so that purchasing employees can access it at their point of purchase.

4. Create documentation evaluating and acknowledging environmental performance

A majority of municipalities with green purchasing policies take steps to track their levels of sustainability. Discussing environmentally sustainable purchasing practices across units dramatically increases the probability of successfully implementing green purchasing policies. By creating documentation detailing these practices and their effects, municipalities can track various factors related to their performance and provide information that can help aid other municipalities in their efforts to do the same.

5. Enhance collaborative vendor relationships

When vendors offer environmentally friendly products and services, the probability of successful implementation of green purchasing policies increases, though vendors have the potential to greatly affect municipal green purchasing, directors in municipalities with and without green purchasing policies alike feel that vendors do not play an essential role in sustainable purchasing.

Given the complexity of green purchasing and the fact that municipalities have limited access to information about green products, vendors can serve as useful partners in facilitating the success of green purchasing policies. Vendors have the potential to take on a stronger role in educating and encouraging the use of environmentally sustainable purchasing options.

6. Foster a culture of innovation

While innovation culture is not highly prevalent in Spain due to the slow movement of bureaucratic processes, incentives for green purchasing can help create a culture that encourages and rewards creativity. The probability of successfully implementing green purchasing policies increases from 26 to 37% when the department has a strong commitment to innovation.

7. Participate in professional networks to share best practices

As more municipalities develop their green purchasing programs, it creates an opportunity to learn from best practices. Professional networks such as the Association for the Sustainability and Progress of Societies, the Spanish Network for Sustainable Development of the United Nations, the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, and ICLEI have emerged to support green purchasing in municipalities, companies, and other organizations. Participating in these networks also helps members gain access to information on best practices and additional ways to introduce or strengthen green purchasing by making it part of the municipality’s routines and processes and enhancing vendor relations.

Municipalities can utilize these seven recommendations to overcome the current barriers to successful green purchasing. Implementing and strengthening green purchasing policies is vital to creating a more sustainable economy and environment.
For more information, read the full report here.