The introduction of sustainability in the Italian civil service’s strategic and operating decision-making was at the top of the agenda at the Public Administration Forum, held a few days ago in Rome.

Full digitalisation in every area of public-sector governance could, say the experts, drive performance improvements and better management of resources.

“As far as the concept of sustainability 1.0 is concerned, three aspects need to be resolved, and digital solutions can play a key role,” says Andrea Rangone, CEO of Digital36. “Starting from the deficit and long-term debt burden on Italy’s finances, then moving on to productivity and the Italian propensity for entrepreneurialism.”

For example, digitalisation could raise state revenues: traceable digital payments could have an impact on a portion of the black economy that continues to elude the tax man. The increase in tax revenue has been estimated at 15 billion euro a year. Similarly, e-procurement and document dematerialisation (with related paper savings) could help the country save resources and lead to a sharp reduction in procurement expenses.

The FPA survey on sustainable consumption practices shows that Italy is a long way from the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.

The situation described by the Ministry for the Environment in the national strategy for sustainable development highlights a downward trend in areas including management of water and energy resources, protection of the country’s natural heritage, waste and unsustainable consumption. On these goals, not only is Italy way behind the results it committed to achieving at international level, its situation has worsened. The good news is that the resources to reverse the trend exist: considering just the 11 thematic objectives of the European Structural and Investment Funds for the period 2014-2020, Italy has 73,624,430,700 euro to spend on measures to promote the country’s sustainable development. The amount is significant, yet, halfway through the planning period, we have spent only 1.2{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}.

In this situation, the civil service with its numbers, functions and spending capability could play a very important role. The survey shows that if all civil servants adopted a responsible spending approach, there would be a reduction of between 5 and 15{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} in public-sector spending. If every one of the more than 3 million public-sector employees avoided using 500 sheets of paper, paper consumption would fall by 8,142 tonnes, thus saving 122,000 trees from being felled, cutting water consumption by more than 3.5 billion litres and lowering national energy consumption by 62 million Kwh. Car-pooling with at least one colleague would reduce the number of cars on the roads from 1.3 million to 750,000, eliminating 376 metric tonnes of carbon and bringing a saving of 230 million euro on fuel alone.

In other words, if the revolution in consumption and sustainable production began from the civil service, a real green revolution would get underway in Italy, with the public authorities acting as trailblazers in soft mobility, energy saving, differentiated refuse collection, reduction of waste, purchase of organic produce, with a formidable impact on the whole country. With public spending standing at almost 17{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} of national GDP, the civil service is the largest consumer and its employees could assist the country in achieving an important cultural advance. And if sustainability in public offices is still insufficient – in the opinion of state employees – awareness of the importance of sustainable consumption is growing.

And yet with regard to green procurement, Italy actually boasts a first in Europe: we are the first country whose procurement code makes minimum environmental criteria mandatory to guide the requirements of contracting authorities and ensure selection of providers who meet financial and environmental sustainability standards.