Sustainable public procurement in a nutshell

Sustainable public procurement in a nutshell

Generally speaking, public procurement is the process through which public bodies buy works, goods, or services from a third supplier. Public bodies are schools, hospitals, local governments, prisons, etc. and what they buy can be for instance the food for meals at school, the cleaning service and cleaning products, buses for public transport, and so on. Within the European Union, public procurement amounts to approximately 15% of the EU gross domestic product (GDP).

The genesis – The first statutory recognition of Public Procurement from the EU can be rooted back in the ‘70s, a period in which the Community also dealt with the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers, among which public procurement (PP). The 70s Procurement Directives were able to promote savings and price convergence, albeit respecting the core economic principles of the EC, namely transparency, non-discrimination, objectivity and open competition, but also free movement of goods and services, right of establishment and the prohibition of discrimination. Over the years the Directives have been amended several times and new, innovative conceptions of Public Procurement have been provided by scholars. Kunzlik talked for the first time about strategic procurement, i.e., a new conceptualization that conceives PP as an occasion for achieving secondary objectives. But which secondary objectives? Here comes the core of this article. Public procurement has enormous potential for achieving environmental and social sustainability, driving the market offer of sustainable products, to promote Research&Development (R&D) and innovation.

Definitions – According to the objectives it pursues PP has been named in different ways: Green Public Procurement (GPP) Social Public Procurement (SPP) or Socially Responsible Public Procurement (SRPP) and Public Procurement of Innovative Solutions (PPI), Circular Public Procurement (CPP). The way public procurement is able to pursue secondary purposes stands in the contract design and in this regard the latest Public Procurement Directives[1] (2014) – in particular, Directive 24/2014 – represent a decent result. Let’s think about public procurement as a series of sequential activities:


Along this cycle, public bodies have several occasions for including within the contract environmental or social criteria that the goods, service or work they want to buy must fulfill.

Analysis of the EU legislation on public procurement – Let’s now take a brief look at how contracts can lever sustainability.

While drafting the contract, for example, the public body could require in the technical specifications (Art. 42), that hospital staff uniforms must be made with recycled and organic textile, labeled with any fair-trade certification. In the case of the provision of the catering service within a university, the public body, e.g. universities, could require, within the contract performance clauses (Art. 70) of the contract, that the weekly menus include only products or recipes from the Mediterranean diet or that the staff ensure a congruent use of the canteen premises (turning off lights in the absence of people, correctly dispose of garbage, etc.). Other relevant provisions of Directive 24/2014 regarding preliminary market consultations (art. 40) “with a view to preparing the procurement and informing economic operators of their procurement plans and requirements”. The importance of this article lies in giving advance notice to third parties who intend to participate in the tender that can allow them to best adapt to the requirements. The contracting authority may want the products supplied to bear a specific label (art. 43) or to meet the criteria determined by this label, without having it. The bidder may need time to adapt the products it produces to the labeling criteria.

Another important aspect established by the directives and not immediately apparent is the scope of the mandatory principle of non-discrimination, equality and avoidance of distortion of competition (Art. 18). These principles are the basis not only of European substantive law but also of procedural law, included in the discipline of procurement. The enormous scope of the principles has an impact on the prohibition of favoring candidates on the basis of nationality or proximity, for example. In a contract for the supply of food products, for example, it is forbidden to select an agricultural company simply because it comes from the same territory in which the supply should be made. Although it may seem contradictory, one of the main purposes of the European Union is to promote the free movement of goods, preventing protectionist practices by member states. Although this implies the impossibility to select a product on the basis of a territorial criterion – let’s think about our beloved Km0 products that have a low impact on the environment also because the means of transport cover shorter distances – the directives still offer other opportunities to pursue environmental sustainability. In this regard, the Directive 24/2014 seeks to protect small and medium-sized enterprises through article 46, which allows contracting authorities to award the contract in the form of separate lots, so that if the scope of the contract, in terms of goods to be supplied, for example, is large, small manufacturers or suppliers are still taken into account. The article is in fact intended to ensure that firms producing on a small scale are not automatically excluded, but rather several small enterprises are involved in the procurement process at the same time. The Directive 2014/24 also provides for mandatory exclusion criteria (Art. 57), for example, if the prospective supplier has been accused of corruption, child labor or human trafficking, financing of terrorist activities. It is not required, but only permitted to exclude participants from the procurement process if they have violated environmental, social and labor obligations (Art. 18) – but the burden of proof is up to the contracting authority.

In addition, according to which principle do contracting authorities generally award contracts? As a rule, following the screening of all bids and their consistency with what was requested in the tender, the authorities award the contract on the basis of the lowest price. However, it is worth mentioning a consistent change made in the EU Procurement Directives (already in the 2004 amendment[2]). The reference to the evaluation not only of the lowest price offer, but also of quality and life-cycle costing (LCC) of that offer (Art. 67/68). LCC refers to costs relating to the acquisition, the use (e.g. consumption of energy), maintenance costs, end of life costs, such as collection and recycling costs of the products and importantly “costs imputed to environmental externalities linked to the product, service or works during its life cycle”.  Last, but not least, the great work carried out by the EU Commission and the experts has been that of drawing up Green (but not yet social) Criteria that can be easily incorporated into contracts by public authorities. The criteria have been drawn up for numerous categories of products and services such as construction, ICT services, canteen services, cleaning products, street lighting, road surfaces, etc. However, according to procurement experts, the directives have some gaps that in fact demonstrate the weak grip of Sustainable Public Procurement.

Limits of the SPP – One of the main weaknesses is that the GPP criteria are not compulsory. Although some member states, among which Italy, have made GPP criteria compulsory for certain categories of products[3], its uptake is still very low, especially considering the ambitious commitment recently undertaken with the EU Green Deal. In December 2020, the EU Commission has stressed its intention to make (part of) GPP criteria mandatory for all member states. Another loophole consists in the lack of training of public bodies about contract design and GPP criteria, in conjunction with lack of engagement with environmental issues. Some studies demonstrate that administrations are more likely to make public procurement greener if they personally want to fight climate change[4]. Another limitation of the directives, as highlighted by Abby Semple[5], is the need for selection criteria, technical specifications, labels and award criteria to be linked to the subject matter of the contracts. In a few words this means that when contracting authorities evaluate different bids, their evaluation must concern just what is considered the subject matter of their contract. Let’s imagine that the City of Oslo would like to purchase renewable energy for the whole city. During the evaluation of the different offers (bids), the City administration may not opt for the company which, beyond the requested amount of renewable energy and their equal price, produces the highest amount of renewable energy as a company, for instance. Public bodies may not, then, interrogate the corporate socio-environmental responsibility, so for example choosing the ‘greenest’ company among those who were competing. Also, if a contracting authority is willing to award the contract to the tenderer which has the lower carbon footprint i.e. in the transport of the products to be supplied, a strict interpretation of the link to the subject matter of the contract may not be efficient. Indeed, the contracting authority may award the contract to a supplier located close to the point of consumption, while the tenderer may need to stock other customers that can be located very far[6].

So, what if the GPP criteria become mandatory? What if the link-to-the-subject-matter will be eliminated? I leave to you the cue.

For more and detailed information please visit

[1] Directive 2004/18/EC – the ‘classical public sector directive’ – and Directive 2004/17/EC – the ‘utilities directive’

[2] Directive 2014/24/EU on public procurement, and Directive 2014/25/EU on procurement by entities operating in the water, energy, transport and postal services sectors


[4] Grandia J., Implementing sustainable public procurement: An organisational change perspective. (Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2015)

[5] Semple, A. “The Link to the Subject-Matter: A Glass Ceiling for Sustainable Public Contracts?”. In Sjåfjell, B., & Wiesbrock, A. (2016). Sustainable public procurement under EU law: new perspectives on the state as stakeholder. Cambridge University Press.

[6] Idem

UN-Habitat is supporting cities to develop evidence-based public space policies and strategies through a community-led initiative.

UN-Habitat is supporting cities to develop evidence-based public space policies and strategies through a community-led initiative.


Quality public spaces are a vital business and marketing tool as cities increasingly compete to attract investment, new residents, businesses, and visitors. As urban population grow, the effective management and sustainability of this growth including the needs and demands of the citizens especially the most vulnerable becomes critical. While cities and local governments recognize the importance of public space and have made efforts to use public space to transform their cities and neighborhoods, these efforts have been primarily site based. These site-based approaches can be scaled-up to many sites across the city but cannot provide distribution, connectivity, accessibility, or programmatic diversity of public spaces. Little effort has also been made towards developing city-wide public space strategies[1] and particularly involving the public in the development of policies. Without this city-wide approach to public space, there has been a growing trend on privatization, grabbing of public land, disappearance of public spaces and eventually creating inequal and segregated cities.

National and local governments need to recognize the role of good quality network of public spaces as a promoter of equity and prosperity. It provides the best means to manage urban growth, support economic development, protect the environment, and promote overall well-being of communities. However, this can only be achieved when cities correct imbalances in public space supply, distribution and quality in different neighborhoods and settlements within the city. Notably, during the COVID 19 pandemic, public and green spaces have become critical areas for containment, testing and for decongesting crowded markets. They offered the much-needed refuge where individuals can be in public, while safely practicing social distancing measures outdoors. More than ever, it has become critical for cities to understand the state of their cities in terms of the spatial distribution and quality of their public and green areas

To support local governments to include a network of public spaces as part of their development plans, UN-Habitat developed the city-wide public space inventory and assessment tool. This tool has been designed as a flexible framework to aid local governments and partners working in public spaces to assess the network[2], distribution[3], accessibility[4], quantity[5], and quality[6] of their public spaces in a cost-effective way. The tool takes a participatory and communityled approach that aims to determine priority areas and sectors of intervention – both spatial and non-spatial– that government and private entities can take to address them.  

“The global community agree that public spaces play a key role in achieving inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities and human settlements. This means that interventions in public space can support achievement in several other targets within the 2030 Agenda and commitments within the New Urban Agenda. Since the monitoring of SDG 11.7[7] and the public space commitments in New Urban Agenda are done at the city level, this city-wide public space assessment tool also supports local governments to report their progress towards achieving these commitments.”

About the tool

The city-wide public space inventory and assessment is a digital tool developed to assess public spaces in cities and identify gaps for the development of long-term public space strategies and policies. It utilizes a digital questionnaire that can be contextualized to fit different contexts and priorities. Therefore, the assessment could either be formulated to capture the broad and diverse aspects of public space or it can emphasize certain thematic or geographical areas. Application of the tool provides a basis for the actual state of public spaces in the city; that includes the state of public space, the problems, and their causes. Mapping of the supply, quality and distribution of public spaces are important, in order to determine priority areas and sectors of intervention, this included institution,financial and regulatory frameworks. It also identifies where public spaces may be lacking, areas where there might be over provision, poor quality public spaces or poorly located public spaces and where there are opportunities for improvement to meet the local needs. This approach supports the development of evidence-based policy, regulatory and spatial strategy development as well as provides a potential to reorganise institutional set-up and financial mechanisms within the city.

A city-wide public space assessment can be commissioned by a local government due to several reasons, which could be:

  1. A city might not have an inventory of their public spaces.
  2. A city would like to develop a new public space strategy or update an existing public space strategy[8].
  3. A city would like to revise their institutional, legal, and regulatory frameworks and understand where to allocate funding more efficiently.
  4. A city would like to tackle emerging issues such as climate change, safety, biodiversity loss, unplanned urbanization, encroachment of public spaces, heritage loss, accessibility among others.

Once the objective of the assessment has been developed, it is crucial to understand the spatial scale of the assessment within cities. The public space assessment could cover 2 different scales: the administrative boundary[9] and the urban extent[10]. In some instances, the assessment could be designed for specific neighborhoods/geographical areas within the city. This could be in the case where the city would like to pilot and test the public space assessment tool and methodology in the city or where the neighborhood has an independent government body and would like to develop strategies for their neighborhood. The geographic scope and the overall objective of the assessment are set prior to undertaking the assessment.

The Approach:

UN-Habitat works with different city governments and partners in conducting city-wide public space assessments in their respective cities. The model is flexible and dependent on the capacities of the local government and partner.  The city-wide public space assessment tool ensures the active participation of the community through the process from formulation of the reference group, development of the assessment to proposing policy and strategic recommendations for the city’s public spaces. 

The process of conducting a citywide public space assessment has been designed into four parts that are progressive with outputs that are as important as the process and social inclusion being considered at all stages of the process. The process includes (i)pre-field work, (ii) data collection, (iii) reporting and (iv) post city-wide assessment. Each of these parts has steps that should be followed with activities, tools and inspiring cases that are drawn from partners and UN-habitat’s experiences working in cities. UN-Habitat recommends that each city follows the process to guarantee long-term appropriate provision, quality and accessibility of public spaces. However, it recognizes that cities are different with different capacities and are at different stages of development. Therefore, depending on the objective of the city and the level of public space provision there are certain steps that are not mandatory to undertake.

Figure: City-wide public space assessment process.

NOTE: The process is modified depending on the needs and capacity of cities. 


Since 2015, the tool has been regularly updated with feedback from its application in a variety of urban contexts. It has been applied in 30 cities and engaged approximately 1,750 data collectors with every city having different thematic entry points such as children, safety, markets, women, heritage etc. 

Through the application of the tool, 40 training sessions to local governments, community members and volunteers have been conducted on the use of the tool but also the importance of public space and the need for data and participation for policy and strategy development. There have been over 25 visioning workshops to develop recommendations and strategic interventions for the cities. There has also been a keen interest by other cities to use this tool for their own citywide public space strategy work. The tool is also key in monitoring and reporting on SDG 11.7 as well as toward the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

Protecting public spaces in Jianghan, Wuhan, China

In 2017, UN-Habitat supported Wuhan Lands Use and Spatial Planning Research Center to undertake a district-wide open public space inventory and assessment. This came at a time when public spaces in the district were being commercialized and threated by the expanding city structures. A training was done for the local government, Wuhan Land Use and Spatial Planning team and data collectors. The result of the city-wide public spaces assessment showed that Jiaghan district falls short of standards set by the National Ecological city of 11m2/capita as well as the international standard of 9m2/capita. Total green public space was just 2.2m2 per capita. Being the densest and least spacious district in Wuhan, Jianghan has to find innovative ways to counter this trend. Moreover, the increase of urban environments in Jianghan District has left public spaces to be derelict and therefore decreasing public space’s function.

The city-wide public space inventory and assessment in Jianghan identified gaps in the safety, accessibility and inclusivity of public spaces. Therefore, in 2018, UN-Habitat identified public spaces that require upgrading and the areas within the district that needed new public spaces to be created. Spaces that required upgrading were identified through an aggregate of indicators and UN-Habitat prepared a map of priority public space for improvement. It was noted that 21% (29) of all public spaces require the most improvement while 29% (41) require the least improvement measures. A spatial analysis of the distribution of public spaces in Jianghan was done and the areas that required new public spaces were identified to be at the periphery of the district accounting for 18% (4.9 km2) of the total area of the district.

These results led to the development of a public space strategy for the district, with an ambitious vision of having “Public Spaces in Jianghan District to be of High Quality, More Accessible, Unique and Diverse.” This vision came with clear goals and objectives to achieve it. To achieve these goals and objectives, a phased implementation was proposed, combining near-term (2017-2022) and long-term (2023-2030) development projects. These was to ensure that upgrading of public spaces to enhance their quality was supported by a long-term green network plan in the district. One public space was selected for upgrading and was implemented in 2018. UN-Habitat together with WLSP will monitor and evaluate the achievements of this strategy.

Image: Data collector interviewing older persons in a public space in Jianghan, Wuhan, China © Wuhan Landuse and Spatial Planning Research Centre. 

Case Study 2: HAYA” Programme “Eliminating Violence Against Women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

To support the “HAYA” Programme “Eliminating Violence Against Women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip”, UN-Habitat in collaboration with Ministry of Local Government, the community, academia and private sector to conducted city-wide public space safety audits in five cities in Palestine; Khan Younis, Jenin, Nablus, Jericho and Bethlehem Cluster of Ad Doha, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala and Bethlehem. The aim was to understand women’s and girls’ safety concerns in public spaces and to develop city-level public space strategies that will feed into the national public space policy development process. 

 Through the participation of over 150 active members of the local community including women associations, journalists, local NGOs, International NGOs, handicapped related associations, Ministry of Education, and youth activists; in addition to UN-Habitat, municipality, other municipalities, and representatives of local universities, recommendations were made for each city. Public space strategies that are proposed for Palestine Territory to promote safety and enhance social cohesion include; 1. spatial (reducing spatial inequality by ensuring public spaces are equally distributed within the cities),  2. social (re-integration strategies such as improving public spaces and creating shared spaces by reducing car movement, promoting diversity and social programming in public spaces to reduce perception of unsafety and increase “eyes on the street”, improving infrastructure to support the active use of public spaces) and 3. promote good governance (provide for rules of use in public spaces and apply penalties for all forms of violence against women in public space and ensuring maintenance of public spaces in order to avoid them being perceived as abandoned and thus attracting crime and antisocial behaviour). Public spaces were also prioritized for upgrading based on these assessments and it will lead to the development and regeneration of five safe and inclusive public spaces in the targeted Palestinian Cities.

Key Lessons and Transferability

Through working in these cities and towns, UN-Habitat has considered how the city-wide public space can deliver more value for cities. Preliminary generic approaches that a city can take prior to conducting a city-wide public space assessment includes:

  1. Securing political support to provide the mandate to execute the process for buy-in and allocation of both financial and human resources. UN-Habitat has found that without the support from the local government, the public space assessment reports remain a shelf report without informing the public debate or influencing the development community. The success of the public space assessment conducted in 5 cities in Palestine and in 4 Provincial Districts in Kabul, Afghanistan was a result of direct endorsement by the local and national government. 
  2. Enhance synergy among actors in public space, including municipal government agencies, the private sector, NGOs, women’s groups, community members and others. The city-wide public space assessment is not a task for one individual stakeholder and an inclusive partnership is an important mechanism for its implementation and success. This should be built upon a shared vision and principles that places public space and people at the centre of planning. In all the cities we have worked conducting the assessments, a training is organised for targeted city officials from different departments within the local authority, representatives from academia, NGOs and community members. This orientation provides them with an overview of the activities and how they can align it with their already existing or planned activities. In Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa the Social Affairs department and the Police saw the importance of conducting hot spot analysis for safety to understand where and what type of safety concerns are present to be able to act upon them. In other cities, this continuous engagement has led to greater synergies among partners within the city eg, in Nairobi, Kenya, the process led to the creation of a Public Space Network that is active with over 60 members who support implementation of public space projects, leading urban design competitions and other public space initiatives.
  3. Build the capacity of local partners. We have found in cities where we have worked,there is little capacity to conduct the survey and report on the findings from the city-wide public space assessment. This leads to a lack of accountability and responsibility for taking the findings towards a long-term plan for the city or align it to already existing plans.
  4. Increase funding from sources other than municipal government, such as from the national and provincial governments, donor agencies, the private sector and the public. The task of conducting a city-wide public space assessment requires financial resources to conduct the field study and draw out findings that are useful for strategic and policy change. It also identifies public spaces that require upgrading and areas within the city that need prioritisation for the creation of new public spaces. Often, the cities do not have the financial and human resources to implement all the recommendations and therefore creating opportunities and incentives for private sector involvement could be an added advantage.
  5. Create enabling institutional and regulatory frameworks to accelerate public space development. In Nairobi, Kenya we supported the establishment of a public space unit under the urban planning department where the document and its implementation could be anchored. In other cities such as Kabul, we provided recommendations for institutionalising public space within the local government, to ensure its planning and implementation.
  6. Focus on the overall urban area rather than a small area of the city. In some cities, such as Durban, South Africa we supported in piloting and testing the methodology in the Inner City and Ward 21. However, the recommendations remain for those areas rather than the overall city. Therefore, these cannot be implemented at a city scale and long-term strategies cannot be developed based on findings from only those areas. It is recommended that cities plan to conduct the assessment for the whole urban area to provide comprehensive strategic recommendations. In some cities, however, where the small urban area has an independent local authority, e.g, Wuchang District in Wuhan,China the recommendations can be implemented within the geographical scope.
  7. Ensure an action-oriented process and connect strategic thinking to project implementation. In Jianghan, Wuhan, China, from the findings of the district-wide public space assessment and together with the local partner, we developed strategic priorities and made a road map for implementation. However, the recommendations were not synchronised within the municipal/district work plan and a detailed action plan was not developed, therefore, the implementation of these recommendations remains fluid. 
  8. Balance external influences (political, economic, environmental and social cycles) and long-term ownership of the process.  Without a clear vision for public space, it is difficult to minimise external influences. A written vision is important for the orientation of public space. The strength of it is the fact that it has been debated and discussed and aligned with city development plans and policies and the actual state of public spaces based on results from the city-wide public space assessment. This can help keep the city’s public space planning on track, despite political or other changes. It helps avoid priorities being set in an ad hoc way by reacting to external pulls and pushes


It has become evident, through the application of this tool in 30 cities, that the task of planning and designing city-wide networks of public spaces is not only to deliver equity in spatial distribution and gain from the wide benefits that public spaces have but must also simultaneously design frameworks that will allow those plans to take place effectively and democratically. The process must therefore be anchored on a firm understanding of the role of stakeholders and the socio-political context where these plans and designs take place, but more importantly, should stem from the voices of those these plans are supposed to serve.

Participation is one of the tools that can limit bias in the planning public space. The city-wide public space assessment tool has therefore been anchored within a flexible framework where local governments are able to design new relationships between civil society, the private sector and communities and understand the state of public spaces, gaps and opportunities in the legal and institutional systems, existing forms of partnership and financing mechanisms to develop inclusive and evidence-based city-wide public space strategies. The tool is also applicable in varying contexts and can be adapted to fit priorities of a city and has shown that the inclusion of communities as key stakeholders in the planning process is necessary if actions towards acceptable or desired outcomes are to be met.

[1] City-wide strategies: Compendium on inspiring practices

[2]  A system of public spaces

[3] Spatial balance of public spaces across the city

[4] Spatial accessibility of public space to the population within walking distances

[5] Proportion of urban surface devoted to public spaces

[6] Main design features, operation, and management (comfort, universal access, use, users, amenities and green)

[7] By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive, and accessible, green, and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities

[8] Public space strategies can range from thematic ones such as public space and health strategy, by typology such as a park strategy, or an activation strategy for public spaces or public market strategy. They can also be ambitious and incorporate several themes and typologies. This is, however, dependent on the objective of the city

[9] In this case, cities are able to develop strategies within clearly defined jurisdictions. It also becomes easy both in terms of gathering statistics and politically. Additionally, administrative units are frequently those for which policies are implemented.

[10] It is important to note that in some contexts, urban extents go beyond the administrative boundary of the city and may include other cities/jurisdictions. Therefore, a clear governance structure needs to be set-up.

Can we nudge in the European Green Deal?

Can we nudge in the European Green Deal?


The article wants to highlight how green nudges, together with other forms of regulation, can help and support the achievement of sustainable goals set by the European Commission, in particular the ones indicated in the European Green Deal plan. The main objectives of this ambitious plan to reach climate neutrality within 2050 are: move to a circular economy system, where the waste of resources is reduced to the minimum, decrease pollution and encourage biodiversity through its restoration.

The last sixty years have been characterized by new scientific studies and theories on human behavior. The most prominent ones are the so-called behavioral sciences, based on the analysis of individuals’ thinking and acting. A branch of behavioral sciences is cognitive science, which studies mental processes, intelligence, and behaviors through an interdisciplinary approach borrow from psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, and other fields. Through these revolutionary discoveries, we have been able to investigate human decision processes, to learn why people react in a certain way to specific stimulations; therefore we started to predict some attitudes and reactions. Originated from these studies and theories that appeared for the first time at the beginning of the 18th century, researchers started to talk about specific nudges as instruments that lead to the improvement of people’s behaviors, and consequently produce a positive impact on the quality of their life and the surrounding environment.

Particularly, the pioneers of the nudge regulation theory are two American professors, R. Thaler and C. Sunstein who explain what are the positive effects of the soft paternalism applied to states’ administration. In their major book “Nudge. Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness”, they discuss how in several fields such as insurance, environment, and others, substitute nudges to obligations, can lead to a better administration and more freedom of choice for citizens. Soft paternalism can encourage to deal with climate issues in a more responsible way and this incentive approach could produce important benefits towards a sustainable economy as promoted by the European Union. The use of this environmental policy instrument, alongside other regulatory tools within the climate law plan decided by the EU, can definitely educate and help citizens to reduce pollution, be careful of the use of resources and encourage a more attentive behavior. This kind of regulation goes beyond the so-called “greenwashing” that in many cases is not effective in motivating strong behavioral changes; the effectiveness of the methods professed by this soft regulation is based on behavioral analysis, therefore everything will be tailored on humans way of thinking and acting.

One of the many examples of how to concretely apply this regulation to address environmental issues at a state level can be found in a city center park in Bucharest, Romania. For instance, to address the issue of cigarette butts being thrown on the ground, a special bin is located at the entrance of the park, prompting citizens to dispose of the cigarette butts in the bin; as by doing so, they are indicating their preferred football team. In this context, being able to support their preferred team represent a strong driver which nudge citizens to respect the park and, in general, the environment they are living in. The example shows how simple green nudges can be stronger than the obligation to throw cigarette butts in a simple bin, and how behavioral studies are so important to be considered and included in regulations to maximize the results we want to obtain.

Other relevant examples are related to recycling in public and private places: studies and conducted experiments based on people’s behavior demonstrates that the difficulty of recycling can be sometimes connected to lack of knowledge, ability to correctly separate materials and structural barriers, therefore apply nudges to raise awareness and people’s attention is crucial. Why not make it more captivating as well? An experiment conducted in Norway in 2014, on approximately nine thousand households was based on sending letters with personalized information related to their own recycling rates and waste habits, and their rates compared to the neighborhood. This trial showed a clear result: how powerful this simple letter can be to make some individuals reduce, without any obligation, their waste and increase the recycling.

Another kind of application of green nudges is the “default option or choice” which consists of choosing between two or more alternatives, knowing that the default one is the suggested one by the provider. Counting on the fact that people are less motivated to change the default option because it will probably imply more efforts requested on their part, they will simply choose it. It can be interesting to organize relevant options in this way letting anyway citizens free at any step to decide or change how they prefer.

In conclusion, nowadays we can find many of these examples of soft nudges in European cities, which is clearly an evidence of their effectiveness. To include policies based on these gentle nudges within a regulatory framework such as the one of the European green deal, will make more effective the achievement of the objectives that European states have set.


R. Thaler, C. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Milan, 2009, p. 21

F. Carlsson, C. Gravert, O. Johansson-Stenman, V. Kurz, Nudging as an Environmental Policy Instrument, 2019, p. 1

A. Moratti, Tecniche di nudging in ambito ambientale, Collana “Quaderni dell’Osservatorio” n. 34, Fondazione Cariplo, 2020, p. 24

A. B. Milford, A. Øvrum, H. Helgesen, Nudges to increase recycling and reduce waste, Norwegian Agricultural Economics Research Institute, 2015

Next Up in the Printer Queue: Social Housing

Next Up in the Printer Queue: Social Housing

Affordable housing is a key challenge in many cities and one of the concerns addressed in Sustainable Development Goal 11. Especially in low-income environments, it is often hard to find housing that is both stable and affordable. However, there might be a solution: 3D printing is now at a level where entire houses can be printed within a few days with costs as low as 5,000 USD per house. Could this be a solution for housing inequality?

How do you print a house?

In California’s Coachella Valley, the first 3D-printed neighborhood of the country is set to be printed soon. A real estate group and a construction technology company have come together to offer affordable housing to middle-class people who normally could not afford to buy a home. But with 3D printing, up to 80% of the construction can be automated, reducing labor hours by up to 95% percent.

Massive 3D printers are in use all over the world. At the size of a small garage, they are able to print entire houses, using layering technology. A specific cement and adhesives mix results in material that hardens almost immediately but can also be molded into countless shapes such as a roof or an overhang for a house. The technology creates up to 10 times less waste than conventional construction, resulting in 50 percent less CO2 emissions.

In as little as 24 hours, entire houses can be constructed. They are not only cheap and sustainable but also very resistant, meaning they withstand even extreme climatic conditions and hazards such as earthquakes. Since the urban poor are often particularly affected by environmental risks, a robust and affordable 3D printed house could be an ideal solution.

3D models of cities are easy to print, but even entire houses can be printed in just a few days.

3D printing in practice – still stuck in the printer queue?

Countries such as Russia, China, and Mexico are already experimenting with printing affordable 3D houses that can be offered to poorer communities and to the homeless. In Mexico’s state Tabasco, a 3D printed community funded by an NGO and two construction companies has allowed 50 families that earn less than 3 USD a day to move into 3D printed houses that are earthquake-proof. Each house offers two bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom, significantly improving space and security for families.  

But can 3D printing really be a larger-scale solution for the housing crisis that countless cities are experiencing? Social housing is affordable housing, meaning that it costs a third of a family’s income or less. Cheap houses such as those coming from a printer can indeed meet the affordability challenge. The question is who provides them. For now, private housing developers and non-profit organizations are interested in using the technology. There is little to no interest from governments, resulting in a lack of funds.

Even if these challenges can be overcome soon, there remains another worry: Affordable houses alone cannot tackle housing inequality. Liveable, attractive cities that can make sure that “no one is left behind” are something that cannot be printed or fabricated. Good public spaces, sustainable mobility, short routes, safety for women and children, and equal employment opportunities are crucial elements for better urban living.

This means that we will need a holistic approach which could consist of integrating 3D printing of social housing into other efforts to improve our cities. Local authorities, municipal governments, non-profit organizations, and for-profit companies need to work together in order to provide affordable, sustainable, and equal housing solutions, supporting not just houses but also entire neighborhoods.

Handing the printers over to local communities

A potential approach for integrating 3D printing into upgrading entire neighborhoods is Fab Labs. These urban laboratories became popular in 2011 by a project in Barcelona that focused on fabrication cities. Urban making is at the core of this idea, challenging cities to fabricate everything they produce themselves. All over the world, Fab Labs are popping up. They invite local makers to learn how to use 3D printers and many other fabrication technologies. A focus lies on communities: Fab Labs are open spaces that often offer community-driven workshops that go beyond technological issues – for example in Mexico City.

Participatory processes shape the planning in Fab Labs. New employment is created, and funded equipment is available to anyone. Ideally, this places the manufacturing of 3D houses in the hands of local communities eventually. The idea that locals know best how to upgrade their neighborhoods is powerful. While some external guidance can be helpful, 3D printing templates can indeed lead to a shift in affordable housing, making better cities a reality.

Hand in hand with community education, uncomplicated permission processes, plans for entire urban environments, and sufficient funding can lead to a much better quality of life in many cities. While 3D printed houses are currently still something new and adventurous, Fab Lab initiatives can help to bring their many opportunities to life.

Fab Labs invite the community to experiment with new technology, resulting in economic opportunities as well as ownership.
Urban resilience and the right to food during the Covid-19 pandemic

Urban resilience and the right to food during the Covid-19 pandemic

Four tips for the Metropolitan City of Turin

Cities will increasingly play an important and strategic role in the next few years. It is not surprising, indeed, that, thanks in part to regional and urban policies for the allocation of funds by the European Union, strong urban sovereignty, unconnected with national sovereignty, is developing. During the initial phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, the urban scenario was perhaps the one in which citizens were forced, more than elsewhere, to change their lifestyles because of the lock-down, but there’s the belief that some of those restrictions and rules imposed by the government were an excellent test, on the one hand for the transition to more sustainable urban systems and on the other hand for local governments to pay more attention to serious, already existing problems such as poverty and lack of access to food. This short and informal contribution aims to analyze and propose, with an eye to the City of Turin, how cities have responded, and could in the future respond, to all those food problems that the Coronavirus has contributed to worsening.

The FAO has recently published a report defining the role of cities in addressing the Covid-19 emergency[1]. The most relevant measures include mapping the most vulnerable communities and their access to nutritious food, monitoring unfair competition practices in food sales and the importance of reopening even smaller food stores (not just supermarkets). This report has been very useful in drafting this article.

New poor, food insecurity and distribution

or… the social issue

In June 2020, Coldiretti reported that Covid has created one million more poor people in Italy[2], including those who have lost their jobs, shopkeepers and artisans forced to close down, workers in the black economy, but also that 39% of Italians are involved in solidarity initiatives through donations, food packs and the farmers’ initiative “Spesa Sospesa”. As pointed out some days later in a Webinar[3] by Alessia Toldo[4], however, it would be wrong to define this as a new crisis, because in reality, it was ‘only’ the worsening of an already existing one. The city of Turin has responded to this problem through a strong mobilization of volunteers who have undertaken voluntary activities and also thanks to experts in the sector such as Toldo herself and Professor Egidio Dansero who have kept the debate and research in the sector alive thanks to the Atlante del Cibo initiative. The examples given are explanatory of the fact that for the moment the problem has been addressed mainly by volunteers and not at an administrative level by the city council. What is here suggested to the administration of the Metropolitan City of Turin is to collaborate closely with these social realities.

The first step could be to map the crucial areas of the city where requests are more concentrated. It would be necessary to set up hubs for food (re)distribution, maybe near the local markets and allow, therefore, the occupation of civic gardens by volunteers not only during working days but also during weekends and during summer. Especially in neighborhoods mainly inhabited by foreigners, an “InfoPoint” could be placed next to the distribution banks, to allow those who have certain food needs, due to their religious beliefs, for example, at least to express preferences and to the volunteers to collect important data for the subsequent distributions and for making specific requests to donors.

The collaboration between Eco dalle Città, Food Pride and Atlante del Cibo led to the creation of a map[5] of all the different food-providing entities in Turin dealing with food surpluses, charitable canteens and food banks, Despite this, the problem of the lack of coordination between these entities has resulted in a partial inefficiency. 

A change in urban mobility and the praise for slowness

or… the environmental issue

The Italian Government launched the initiative of the Green Mobility Vouchers for buying bikes or other electric vehicles just for personal mobility. We have to be aware that this initiative can change the rhythm of (Italian) cities and grocery shopping too. The rise of smart working – that should be balanced with normal working in order not to spend too much time at home and maintain physical contact with society, and a transition to greener mobility will both create slower urban systems. Citizens can profit from this precious slowness to make more responsible shopping, such as going to a farmer’s market instead of the supermarket. Local administrations should care about favoring those subjects of the food chain that have suffered more than others from the lockdown, namely the farmers.  With regards to the Lancet Report[6] and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact[7] (2015), to build sustainable diets and to respect the Right to Food for all means recognizing the need for healthier and seasonal products. Thanks to this potential greener mobility, Municipalities should push citizens to give more importance to the social function of public markets and local producers. To have more time for food shopping and to buy more fresh products means sustaining local economies and small farmers, eating consciously and preventing waste.

This leads to believe that building green cities and guaranteeing sustainable food should also be among the objectives of urban planners when drawing up the city’s urban development plan. And in this context, the precise objectives set by the SDGs can act as a catalyst. A “city of urban markets and food as a common” favors public transport or bicycle/foot transport of citizens and therefore expands the limited traffic zones (LTZs) and pedestrian islands accordingly.

Access by cars to central or high traffic areas (such as a market square in the early morning hours) should be guaranteed for logistical purposes only and not to such an extent as to discourage the transition to the so-called cycle-logistic[8].

Multistakeholderism and the proposal for a Local Authority for the protection of the right to food

or… the governance issue

As already mentioned above, the right to food has only been addressed by social actors and volunteers. Cities need to create spaces for dialogue where these different actors can communicate not only with the administration but also with private parties involved in food distribution and prevention of food loss to build a comprehensive and common food policy. The metropolitan city of Milan, aware of these urgent issues and in addition to its international commitments for urban development strategies[9] has drafted its own Milan Food Policy.

Another interesting project is Piana del Cibo[10], born in the plain of Lucca, Tuscany from a coordinated initiative of some local municipalities[11]. The initiative provided for the establishment of different platforms for dialogue but not only between public-private and administrative social partners. It has created a real panel of experts on the one hand (the Food Council) and also the Mayors Assembly for the drafting of the inter-municipal food plan. Although it is a different context, the City of Turin can take inspiration from this initiative.
Actually, the idea of creating a Food Council and a Food Commission in the Savoy city had already been taken into consideration a few years ago and recently retracted by the City Councilor[12]. However, Turin must take advantage of this moment of partial stalemate to make the project a concrete reality.

The active role of municipalities in building food education

…or the educational issue

According to the Ministerial Decree of 10 March 2020[13], which entered into force last July, Italy has updated some of the so-called Minimum Environmental Criteria (CAM in Italian) for public procurement in the collective catering sector, which dated back to 2011. As this area also involves school canteens, it is vital that once the CAM is implemented, children in schools in Turin become aware of the reasons for the changes in their school meals. In fact, it is necessary to follow the path of Milan, whose municipality, in concert with schools and farms, is promoting partnerships between these actors[14].

Another possible action in this area could involve not only schools but also universities and public buildings, as well as hospitals. CAM also applies to packaged products contained in vending machines, which are often low in nutrients and rich in calories. For example, vending machines providing fresh fruit, delivery platforms, office water containers, etc. could be used to reduce the consumption of sweetened and carbonated drinks and pre-packaged food. Another important innovation is for example that in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools it will be necessary to use washable tableware and glasses instead of single-use ones and that at least 50% by weight of fruit, vegetables and legumes will have to be organically grown.

The intervention of Alessia Toldo to the webinar “Covid and food system” clarified that certain emergencies should be addressed with a generous degree of practicality, even if at the expense of their formality. It must be said that the cases mentioned in this article only underline the close correlation between law and politics and that the former must be supported by strong popular convictions to work. Where certain activities do not fall directly within the administrative duties, for whatever reason – if only for the fear of slowing them furtherly – it is at least desirable that the PAs can recognize, support and provide spaces for dialogue to the most active citizens. This approach is by no means new in the Turin context where, thanks to the presence of eminent scholars such as Stefano Rodotà and Ugo Mattei, the city has recently adopted a Regulation for Urban Commons[15]. The latter formalizes the “pact of collaboration” as an administrative instrument of public-public partnership so that citizens are the first subjects that take care of the place where they live, sometimes through EU-funded projects[16]. The hope is that this “cure” may one day extend to food, but especially to individuals who have problems related to it.   

[1] Urban food systems and COVID-19: The role of cities and local governments in responding to the emergency, 09 April 2020



[4] Alessia Toldo is Associate professor of Methodologies for social inclusion and participation at the Politecnico of Turin and of Political Geography at the University of Turin





[9] Milan is in fact the leader of the international Milan Food Policy Act “an international pact signed by 210 cities” and it’s a party of the C40 organization for climate change in urban areas and of ICLEI organization for sustainable development at the urban level.


[11] Municipalities of Lucca, Capannori, Altopascio, Porcari e Villa Basilica.


[13] DM n. 65 del 10 marzo 2020,


[14] This initiative is one of the concrete actions related to the third objective of the Milan Food Policy. (

[15] Regolamento per il governo dei bei comuni urbani nella Città di Torino n. 391

[16] Co-City project by UIA (Urban Innovative Actions)

Europe’s Green Deal: the first step towards Circular Cities

Europe’s Green Deal: the first step towards Circular Cities

Urban planning adapts to the needs of its times from industrial revolution to modernity; we have aimed to enhance development at an accelerated rate. We wanted more and bigger cities developed for cars and the ultimate technology. Facing the consequences of climate change, we now feel the urgency to understand our relationship with the materials and resources that make our societies work, which means slowing down our processes and building an innovative and conscious connection with the environment. But how can we continue an accelerated rate of living sustainably? 

To transform growth dynamics at a medium-term, the European Commission implemented the European Green Deal as part of a plan to make the EU’s economy sustainable “by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities and making the transition just and inclusive for all. “(European Commission) The deal puts growth as a priority; the idea is for this new growth strategy to “give back more than it takes away.” 

Source: Sustainable Europe Investment Plan

One of the Green Deal’s action plans is to “boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy,”(European Commission) an action plan that primarily targets cities as regions that are both the producers of environmental footprints and spaces with the potential to develop a global sustainable development. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, cities play a leading role in implementing a Green New deal as today account for about 75% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

The Green New Deal has decided to bet for implementing a circular economy as it seems to be a responsible way forward to relate to our consumption and production habits, especially in cities. In a joint effort to reduce CO2 emissions, theorists, civil societies, NGOs, governments, and supra governmental institutions started adopting more circular measures. 

Even if circularity is not a new term, it has popped up more and more in recent years. It forms part of a group of concepts such as resiliency, sustainability, and climate change that can transform the way we think about nature and resources as much as they can become buzzwords. Circularity refers to a transformation in how our societies relate to materials; the aim is to generate a cycle or value chain that prevents waste.

From self-destructive to self-sustaining 

According to Francesca Zannotto, any production process and decision made brings waste as a consequence, “waste is a basic, unavoidable part of the metabolism of reality” (Zanotto,2020). Human needs at the pace our societies have reached consume a high volume of resources and produce lots of waste. As Zanotto describes, we face the contradiction of having waste at the center. Our everyday life consumption and domestic presence erode resources and leave debris.  

Moving to a clean circular economy would mean to think clearly of the physical dimension of waste and resources while at the same time influence behaviors that foster circular practices. The Green New Deal plans to tackle the contradictions of waste vs. human existence by focusing on the circular economy, creating a synergy in which governance meets design and, most notably, urban design. The deal would bring changes not only to infrastructure but also to practice, but is this enough? 

The circular economy action plan includes investment in environmentally-friendly technologies, supporting industry innovation, implementing cleaner, safer and healthier forms of transportation, decarbonizing energy, ensuring buildings are more energy-efficient and improving global environmental standards with international partners. 

By principle, a circular economy aims to close loops, extend the life cycle of objects, and implement business models for circular and climate-neutral consumption. However, all this can be supported by creating thriving, resilient communities through new sharing, co-owning & managing cities’ resources. The transition to clean energies involves normative in creating products and their life-long cycles and people and their everyday life consumptions and practices. 

Source: Ellen McArthur Foundation

The supranational focus on circular economies would validate efforts from civil society and governments to implement circular practices. However, as stated above, it remains primarily a task for cities and municipalities to think and implement circular practices. For instance, the Green City Accord is a policy initiative derived from the European Green Deal to fund the implementation of techniques for clean and healthy cities for Europe, with a €1.8 trillion package to put regions and cities at the core for a green, digital and resilient recovery.

The European Union’s efforts in a complex topic such as reducing carbon footprint have their caveats. There has been a proposal to think beyond the so-called technocratic approach to thinking of a Circular Society, not only a Circular Economy, meaning that the transformational change emphasizes the social perspective, addresses the long-needed systemic transformation, and reshapes the balance between techno-, eco-, and sociosphere. (Calisto, F. M, 2020) This approach thinks of a systemic change that implements self-sustaining dynamics to reach a mid-term scale transformative cycle. 

Contemporary challenges have proven the importance of rethinking the growth pace that our societies have developed in recent years, especially in cities. To achieve that, efforts like Europe’s Green Deal propose a platform for design to meet policy, this might translate in an efficient way to redesign our relationship with waste and consumption through sustainable practices such as Circular Economy. Cities will be the main target for this transformation since they are both centers of hazard and opportunity, the next questions rely on how circularity can be part of not only the economy but also society and the city system as a whole, involving its citizens and their practices. 


A European Green Deal. Striving to be the first climate-neutral continent

Calisto, F. M., Vermeulen, W. J. V., & Salomone, R. (October 01, 2020). A typology of circular economy discourses: Navigating the diverse visions of a contested paradigm. Resources, Conservation & Recycling, 161.

EU Circular Economy Action Plan. A new Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe.

Zanotto, F. (2020). Circular architecture: A design ideology. Siracusa: LetteraVentidue.