The governance challenge of implementing long-term sustainability objectives with present-day investment decisions

Pot, Wieke D.


Grand sustainability challenges and international sustainability agreements require national and local governments to further incorporate sustainability as part of their present-day investments in infrastructure. To strengthen public procurement as a policy tool for enhancing sustainability, recent systematic literature reviews call for more research on the interactions between actors in tender processes. Therefore, this article combines a governance lens with a process tracing approach to explain why it is difficult for governments to reach sustainability objectives with their present-day investment decisions. The results derive from a longitudinal case study of the investment process in a Dutch water pumping station and are based on primary documents, interviews, and observations of the tender procedure between 2017 and 2019. The research reveals that risk avoidance, goal satisfaction, and budget compliance interfere with the implementation of national and international sustainability objectives at the local level. There is need for more attention on learning as part of procurement procedures, scale flexibility to realize sustainability objectives efficiently and effectively, and prioritization of conflicting long-term objectives to avoid implementation gaps.