Sustainable Public Procurement Research

Public procurement is often considered to be the biggest business sector in the world. Governments increasingly use their authority in the market to compel private organizations to contribute to their public objectives. Public procurement has thus become a policy tool to achieve desired outcomes in society. For a number of years governments around the world have been using sustainable procurement to stimulate the market for sustainable goods and services.

Sustainable procurement refers to “the acquisition of goods and services in a way that ensures that there is the least impact on society and the environment throughout the full life cycle of the product” (Meehan & Bryde, 2011).

I have examined sustainable public procurement in several research projects.

Sustainable Public Procurement in Belgium

Together with dr. Peter Kruyen I conducted a research for the ‘Federale Instituut Duurzame Ontwikkeling’ (FIDO) of the Belgian Federal government. Public procurement has the potential to make procurement and the government as whole more sustainable, innovative and socially and ethically responsible. As  of 2005, have several Belgian public organizations  examined the possibilities for sustainable procurement and developed sustainable procurement policies. The diversity and variation in sustainable procurement initiatives and policies have since been introduced, ranging from the use of environmental labels, driving the climate targets through rules and regulations, creating possibilities for disadvantaged groups to experimenting with new business models. Due to this variation it is difficult to give an overview of how the Belgian government is applying sustainable procurement.

The focus in this research is the systematic examination of E-notification, an online publication platform, where Belgian public procurers announce their tenders. Based on the analyses of these documents we can determine if and how Belgian public procurers are including sustainability in their tenders. In addition, we will examine and identify patterns in the tender documents from the database.

The research report can be downloaded here: Research Report SPP in Belgium 

PhD Project

The Dutch policy programme on sustainable public procurement (SPP) consists of a compulsory and voluntary part. On the one hand procurers and project teams are required to apply ecological criteria in their procurement projects (compulsory), but on the other hand the government would like them to aim higher and do more than the bare minimum (voluntary). Partly due to the voluntary aspect of the programme, the amount of SPP that is applied in procurement projects is not constant, but varies across projects. This raises the question why in certain projects there is more sustainable procurement than in others?

The overall aim of this research is therefore to gain insight in the application of sustainable public procurement and explain variations in the application and uptake of sustainable public procurement.

Although sustainable procurement literature has been growing exponentially, it still mainly focuses on the identification of barriers and drivers of sustainable procurement (Appolloni, Forthcoming). The identification of these barriers and drivers is very important, it however does leave some questions unanswered. For example, how do they influence the implementation and application of sustainable procurement? How can they be influenced? Why do they exist?

In this research I have therefore used insights from organizational change literature to understand how organizational factors (the drivers and barriers) can influence the application of sustainable procurement in procurement projects. In seven case studies and a survey we examined if and how several organizational factors on the application of sustainable procurement. For example, what is the role of top management support, red tape, knowledge or commitment to change on the application of sustainable procurement in procurement projects?

The research concludes that not only organizational factors, such as procedural justice, are important for the application of sustainable procurement. But that the behaviour of procurers, influenced by organizational factors, and their individual characteristics, is a important determinants of how sustainable goods are procured. The key for successful sustainable public procurement thus appears to lie in the hands of the public procurers.

The dissertation can be downloaded here: dissertation


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