SPRI researchers win NSF award to study the future or work in sustainable public procurement

As the public sector constitutes the single largest marketplace across the globe, accounting for 24% of U.S. GDP, it imparts significant sustainability consequences, affecting environmental, social, and economic outcomes. The public sector also creates enormous opportunities to leverage its purchasing power to advance sustainable public procurement and sustainability in general. However, at the local level, only one-quarter of U.S. cities have adopted sustainable public procurement, and of these, only about half indicate that their efforts have been successful.

A critical factor affecting sustainable public procurement success is the extent to which procurement managers incorporate existing, emerging, and future digital technologies to acquire and integrate accurate data into their current procurement processes, and to understand the sustainability impacts of their purchase decisions. These technologies play a pivotal role for supporting decision making, engaging stakeholders, gathering information in multi-tier supply chains, and monitoring and measuring progress towards achieving sustainability goals. Even so, the integration of digital technologies into public procurement (PP) to advance sustainability objectives remains uncharted territory.

SPRI faculty Nicole Darnall (PI, School of Sustainability), Justin Stritch (School of Public Affairs), and Shirley-Ann Behravesh (Thunderbird), along with Eusebio Scornavaca (School for the Future of Innovation and Society and Thunderbird), Veronica Villena Martinez (WP Cary), and Eric Welch (School of Public Affairs) received a one-year NSF project development grant to explore how PP managers can leverage existing, emerging, and future technologies that comprise the digital ecosystem to achieve their sustainability goals. It will uncover public organizations’ perception of sustainability and the extent to which they currently balance economic, environmental, and social concerns.

Further, the research will explores the disruptions created by emerging technologies to the procurement process, and how these technologies are likely to redefine the skillset of future PP managers. It does so by collecting qualitative data from technology developers, leaders of public organizations, and PP managers to identify the critical areas needing further development and leading to high-impact research outcomes.