Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Sustainability Case Studies 26: Environmental Purchasing in the City of Phoenix

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This is the 26th post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the review.

Today's chapter, by Nicole Darnall, Lily Hsueh, Justin M. Stritch, and Stuart Bretchneider of Arizona State University focuses on the efforts of the City of Phoenix to meet some of its sustainability goals through green purchasing initiatives.  


The chapter begins by noting that cities have stepped up to try to address environmental issues, particularly after the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Accord. One way they have done this is through environmental purchasing policies (EPP's). Cities have tremendous purchasing power and thus can impact their supply and service providers to follow particular green guidelines. For a number of reasons, cities have had mixed results in applying EPP's and the case study follows how things went in Phoenix in trying to implement an EPP.

Phoenix' EPP is not that old. Indeed, it was only in 2007 that the City Council passed a resolution to grant authority to the city to develop and EPP and it was designed by 2012 although not fully implemented until 2016. It took time to develop the policy because purchasing was not a central activity and budget cuts forced purchasers to focus mainly on price as opposed to green priorities. The challenges of the rollout of the EEP led the City to develop a partnership with Arizona State University to assess what was impeding and facilitating EPP development and how the EPP implementation could be improved.

The resulting research identified key areas that facilitated and challenged the development of the EPP. The areas that assisted in the rollout were:

  • Knowledge of environmentally preferred alternatives
  • Cost-effective and financial incentives
  • E-procurement systems
  • Department culture
  • Executive-level directives
The challenges for the rollout were:
  • Purchasing management structures
  • Purchasing employee's service priorities
  • Scope of work or technical specifications
  • Burdens of executive-level directives
  • Budget concerns
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Overall the research team came up with several recommendations and ways to improve the EPP process that took into consideration the challenges and the opportunities. They are:
  • Reinvigorate the City's EPP team
  • Network to share best practices
  • Broaden representation on the City's Strategic Purchasing Team
  • Implement EPP training
  • Integrate eco label information into e-procurement 
  • Expand life-cycle costing
  • Develop and executive directive for environmentally preferred purchasing
  • Create incentives for EPP implementation 
After the completion of the study and the presentation of the findings, the EPP was revised and there is more guidance given to employees about green purchasing. In addition, the city has expanded its purchasing guidelines with the intent that they will aid the city in reaching its sustainability goals.

Click here for more information about the book.

Here are some class discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on green procurement and environmental purchasing. 

1. Why do you think the City of Phoenix is so interested in green procurement?

2. What methods did the researchers use to study the EPP?

3. Knowledge about environmentally preferred options seemed to be more of a significant indicator of a facilitator of EPP over executive level directives. Why do you think that was the case?

4. Why do you think the e-procurement system was considered a positive development for the EPP?

5. The most important barrier to EPP development was the purchasing management structure. Can you explain why?

6. Another barrier was the purchasing employees' service priorities. They felt that they were trying to meet the needs of the departments over the EPP. How could that be overcome?

7. Why do you think the top recommendation was to reinvigorate the City's EPP team?

8. Does your job or school follow an EPP?

Previous Entries in This Series

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