If sustainability were a subject on the national syllabus, then the Italian civil service wouldn’t get a pass mark, even though, at regulatory level at least, it is ahead of the field.

Seven hundred civil servants (and 100 private-sector employees) interviewed by Forum della Pubblica Amministrazione for a survey into “sustainable consumption practices in the workplace” gave their departments an average mark of 4.9 for policy sustainability. Among the various bodies, the Regions received the best score on sustainability standards (but at 5.3 still well below the pass mark).

And yet the civil service could lead the green revolution. Italy is the first country to have made Green Public Procurement mandatory, with the introduction of a special code in its new tenders code (legislative decree 50/2016).

The decree requires public entities to introduce minimal environmental criteria by class of products and services in their tender documents. So, if a contracting authority fails to comply, companies can appeal to the regional administrative tribunal. This is certainly an important step forward, although it does not in itself guarantee a “revolutionary” impact. Civil service spending accounts for just under 17{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} of GDP.

The commendable efforts of the Italian civil service would perhaps be greatly assisted if the private business sector also adopted a green procurement standard, to pave the way as fully as possible for a true change of perspective in consumption. A recent study promoted by Conlegno for Earth Day (22 April), an event that has been raising people’s awareness about the eco-system since 1970, provides encouraging figures about the “greenness” of Italian business: more than 70{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} of the sample of 150 entrepreneurs in a number of Italian cities said that 2017 is the year for the adoption of truly eco-sustainable policies and measures in the corporate workplace in order to contain polluting emissions or foster more sustainable behaviour, from senior management down.

Specifically, entrepreneurs said measures took the form of investments in machinery innovation (44{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}) and installation of solar panels to generate clean energy (37{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}). They also include more simple action such as differentiated waste collection in offices (51{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}) and lower temperatures when the heating is on (45{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}): growing numbers of companies are making contributions.

Among key benefits, entrepreneurs report a healthier and happier workplace (87{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}), medium/long-term financial savings (73{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}) and an enhancement of the company’s CSR reputation (62{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}). This important trend is more notable among female entrepreneurs, where the percentage rises to 80{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}, especially in the large industrial areas in central-northern Italy.

So what “green” policies are Italian businesses about to introduce? In first place is compulsory differentiated waste collection (51{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}), followed in second place by a series of measures to cut energy consumption, such as lowering heating or closing doors and windows when the air-conditioning is on (45{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}). The bronze medal goes to investment in machinery and equipment in energy class A or with a lower environmental impact (44{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}).

The top 5 closes with the installation of solar panels or other devices to generate clean energy (37{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}), and procurement from suppliers and producers with certification guaranteeing the sustainability of their products (34{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}).

The main drivers behind the uptake of green policies in the workplace include important intangible considerations such as creating a healthier and happier environment (87{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}), improving the company’s CSR reputation (62{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}). But the road towards sustainability is not problem-free.

For example, 48{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} of entrepreneurs say that central and local government should encourage investment in ‘green’ machinery and equipment with tax incentives and subsidies. 35{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} complain of a lack of cooperation from employees in introducing simple measures (from differentiated waste collection to turning off lights and computers) or emphasise the high cost of some certified products or products made with recycled materials (22{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}).

So here is the identikit of the Italian green entrepreneur. 80{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} of women and 64{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} of men said they had already introduced, or intended to introduce, sustainable policies for their companies and employees. The majority are under 45 (85{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}), while the percentage falls to 59{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} between the ages of 46 and 70. The phenomenon is stronger in the large cities in central-northern Italy, led by entrepreneurs in the Milan area (77{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}), followed by Rome (75{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}), Turin (74{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}), Bologna (72{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}) and Naples (68{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}).