Public agencies feel the need to advance sustainability and use procurement as an instrument to do so. Many studies focused on internal forces, explaining the limited success of sustainable public procurement. This study focused on how external forces are able to hold municipalities accountable for sustainable procurement. Three mid-sized Dutch municipalities were investigated through an extensive document study and 34 semi-structured interviews. The results show minor legal pressure to enforce sustainable procurement. National legislation, guidelines and principles are considered non-binding, due to a lack of penalties in the case of non-compliance. Real pressure stems from lobbying by branch organizations and political pressure initiated by citizens. In contrast with the New Public Management principles, municipalities appear to place more emphasis on legal and financial accountability, in contrast to performance accountability. Accountants mainly focus on legitimacy and the finance department only monitors spending within budget. The hybrid organization of the procurement function seems to impede sustainability development. Only the larger projects are subject to sustainability requirements, set by centralized purchasing departments. Smaller projects, responsible for 2/3 of the total spend are managed by decentralized groups, remaining under the radar of sustainability policies.
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