Effect of using public resources and training for the sustainable development of Brazilian municipalities
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The aim of this study was to analyze the effect of using public resources and training for the sustainable development of Brazilian municipalities. To reach this objective, the data from 5569 municipalities in 2017 were analyzed. The data were collected in the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) census and analyzed using structural equation modeling with PLS (Partial Least Squares). PLS is a structural equation modeling method that enables you to work with complex models on more than one level of latent variables. The results show that municipal resources have a positive impact on sustainable development. This means that the municipalities whose permanent employees socially participate in forums and workplace environment committees, which have specific financial resources for sustainability, present better economic and social performance. Such social participation also has positive effects on environmental performance in these municipalities. The study also showed that the training of government employees is fundamental for the implementation of environmental management programs and for improving the social performance of Brazilian municipalities.
KeywordsRBV Sustainable development Municipal government Brazil
Sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland 1987). It is considered fundamental for social welfare and environmental protection (United Nations-UN 2018). Thus, it has become one of the objectives of the actions undertaken by public authorities and institutions, which increasingly recognize the benefits and sources of long-term development (Alinska et al. 2018).
The reason for this is that there is a latent need to worry about the rapid depletion of natural resources, unequal income distribution, and corporate social responsibility issues (Dao et al. 2011). Thus, the interaction between development and sustainability can become an economically viable, ecologically correct, and socially equitable alternative because it is based on the principle of resource efficiency. This strengthens economic growth and contributes to job creation, poverty eradication, and environmental protection (PNUD 2015).
The data from the Sustainable Cities Program (2019) show that Brazilian municipalities have developed actions for sustainable development: sustainable education spaces, urban solid waste treatment plants, technology and planning for mobility, solidarity exchange of agricultural products, sustainable procurement, awareness of civil servants, etc. Although these actions drive sustainable development, they are still incipient, and as a result, environmental and social problems continue to occur. For this reason, a more adequate municipal structure and better-trained civil servants are needed to generate sustainable development.
From this perspective, the recent research has focused on how resource use contributes to sustainable development (Qdais 2007; Carvalho et al. 2018). Particularly, studies drawing on the resource-based view (RBV) have aided in the understanding of the use of an organization’s internal resources with the purpose of assisting sustainable development (Nikolaou et al. 2018) and gaining competitive advantage (Mieg 2012; Barrutia and Echebarria 2015; Carvalho et al. 2018).
What is known is that financial, organizational, and human resources are important for delivering sustainable development because they provide competitive advantage for municipalities (Mieg 2012; Barrutia and Echebarria 2015; Carvalho et al. 2018). For example, the adoption of these resources attracts investment and workers, encourages ecotourism, and provides jobs and income for citizens (Carvalho et al. 2018). Although the literature has shown that municipal resources lead to sustainable development, little has been explored about the effect of the training of government employees on this relationship. Jabbour (2015) pointed out that environmental training is a key component in organizational performance. Gomez-Conde et al. (2019) reported that only managers and employees who undertake training are able to understand the data of an environmental management system.
Training helps managers better understand their decisions concerning sustainable development. This enables the implementation of plans and public policies relative to, for example (i) pollution prevention; (ii) the planning of natural resources; (iii) basic sanitation; (iv) the treatment and disposal of waste; (v) urban planning; and (vi) the use of drinking water (Schutzer 2012). Based on this context, the objective of this research was to analyze the effect of using municipal resources and training to improve the sustainable development of Brazilian municipalities. To achieve the objective, data on financial, organizational, and human resources were analyzed; civil servants were trained; and environmental, social, and financial performance indicators were analyzed for 5569 Brazilian municipalities in 2017.
In practice, this study shows that municipal resources, such as social participation in forums and workplace environment committees, financial resources for environmental management, and permanent employees, help to generate employment and income and improve education and health levels, as well as tax management indices. In addition, the study also shows that the training of government employees influences the implementation of environmental management plans, which improves the environmental and social performance of municipalities. Thus, the study contributes to public managers and society by helping improve decision-making processes with regard to the use of municipal resources and training to gain a competitive advantage and promote economic, social, and environmental sustainability.
Theoretical framework and hypothesis formulation
Brundtland’s definition of sustainable development (1987) can also be applied in the context of public administration. According to this philosophy, the decisions of public managers on the use of existing resources must ensure economic efficiency, social equity, and ecological balance. However, the pursuit of sustainable municipal development can become complex because even though sustainable urban development is strongly advocated by environmentalists and administrators, the history of urban growth has shown a conflicting scenario (Heinke 1997).
This is due to the fact that cities are centers of ideas, trade, culture, science, productivity, and social development (Ribeiro et al. 2018), with a high concentration of people (Buhaug and Urdal 2013; Rosa et al. 2016; Rosa et al. 2019). Smaller and eminently agricultural towns have characteristics that also reveal the need for public power to help promote sustainable development, such as the impact of agriculture and animal husbandry on soil, air, and aquifers; natural disasters; and social problems resulting from a lack of access to basic health care and education.
These characteristics put pressure on the existing infrastructure (Satterthwaite 2009), such as water, sanitation (Rosa et al. 2016), energy (Ewing and Rong 2008), basic services, housing, and transport (UN 2018). Therefore, flexible and sustainable long-term policy-making instruments are needed to solve the problems related to negative economic, environmental, and social effects. According to Eryildiz and Xhexhi (2012), this approach requires commitment from government authorities to improve and preserve the quality of life of the population.
As a contribution to sustainable development theory, the most recent global pact of the United Nations (UN) in 2016 has defined “Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)” as a universal call to action to reduce environmental and social problems through the management practices of governments and society that are aimed at economic efficiency, social equity, and environmental balance. There are seventeen goals to improve people’s quality of life, which offer clear guidelines and targets to be adopted by all countries in accordance with their priorities and environmental challenges (PNUD 2015).
While the philosophy of sustainable development is recognized and agreed upon by the nations involved with the SDG, putting it into practice requires the effort of public managers to prioritize their decisions concerning the aspects of the SDG. The study of Villeneuve et al. (2006) on cities in Canada and Quebec shows that a management approach based on cooperation among public decision-makers, users, and citizens is important for the improvement of planning and reinforcement of the harmonization of the measures for the sustainability of cities.
However, this interaction will only be effective as long as there are financial, organizational, and human resources of national, subnational, and municipal governments that enable the protection of the planet and increase society’s quality of life.
In addition to resources, public institutions need to be able to adapt to constant changes, which is necessary to achieve sustainable development. The reason for this lies in the fact that this concept encompasses two key elements: “needs” and “technological and social limitations” (Wuelser et al. 2012).
It is known that the search for sustainable development requires government efforts, and municipal resources have to be used to enable the control of the impact of human activities on the environment. The use of resources, from the perspective of the RBV, is aimed at achieving higher levels of efficiency and better results in municipal performance (Szymaniec-Mlicka 2014; Barrutia and Echebarria 2015) and can lead to a sustainable advantage (Alam et al. 2019).
Sustainable advantage has been recognized by the scientific community since the 1990s, and from this view, both companies and governments are under pressure from society and regulatory authorities to use organizational resources for sustainability (Cheng et al. 2014). Understanding these pressures, Hart (1995) suggests the natural resource-based view (NRBV), recognizing that an organization can enjoy sustainable competitiveness by using its resources and capabilities to produce green products, processes, and technologies with long-term sustainability, rather than short-term profits and benefits.
According to Alam et al. (2019), this understanding provides a holistic view of the links among resources, skills, and performance in organizations, which form the basis for sustainable competitiveness. According to Szymaniec-Mlicka (2014) and Barrutia and Echebarria (2015), in the case of municipalities, the use of these resources provides financial, environmental, and social balance in the region with municipal coverage.
H1a: Municipal resources positively affect financial performance;
H1b: Municipal resources positively affect environmental performance; and
H1c: Municipal resources positively affect social performance.
In addition, the literature has recognized that human resources have become a central element in helping an organization adopt a sustainable competitive strategy that ensures long-term advantage and performance (Hart 1995). For human resources to help organizations achieve sustainable development, their capabilities and competencies need to be considered, including the training of employees and managers (Cheah et al. 2019). For Cabral and Dhar (2019), environmental training is essential to inspire green skills in the employees of an organization. As a result, the environmental training of employees and managers enables the organization to achieve positive sustainable performance.
Harlez and Malagueño (2016) recognize that managers and trained staff will be more accustomed to dealing with abstract numbers and environmental management. Thus, managers and employees without specific training will not be able to understand the environmental information and data for the purpose of decision-making (Albelda Perez et al. 2007). According to Gomez-Conde et al. (2019), managers and staff who have received environmental training may be more able to understand, monitor, and coordinate the achievement of previously established environmental goals and, thus, correct any deviations. In this way, it is assumed that employee training improves the way in which municipal resources enhance sustainable development.
H2a: Training positively affects financial performance;
H2b: Training positively affects environmental performance; and
H2c: Training positively affects social performance.
Population selection and data collection
Characteristics of the analyzed sample
Units of federation and region
Number of municipalities
Municipality with management body for environmental policy
Rio Grande do Norte
Rio de Janeiro
Rio Grande do Sul
Mato Grosso do Sul
Federal District *
Measurement of variables
The independent variables are municipal resources and training. The construct of municipal resources was measured using the percentage of municipalities with specific financial resources for sustainable development (F1), the percentage of municipal employees with a permanent employment relationship (H7), and the percentage of municipalities with an integrated management plan (O20). The construct of training was measured using the percentage of employees with training in environmental education (CA2.3), the percentage of employees with training in social participation in forums and workplace environment committees (CA2.10), and the number of employees who participated in training sessions on sustainable development issues (H8).
The dependent variables are economic, social, and environmental performance. Economic performance was measured by the average level of municipal tax management (IGF1), average level of own-source revenue (IGF2), and average level of payroll expenses (IGF3). Social performance was measured by the average index of social development (IDE1), average index of employment and income generation (IDE2), average education index (IDE3), and average health index (IDE4). Environmental performance was measured by the number of municipalities that implemented the “Collective Educator” environmental education program (IAP1); the number of municipalities that implemented the “Green Room” environmental education program (IAP2); the number of municipalities that implemented the “Green Screen Circuit” movie screening (IAP3); the number of municipalities that implemented the Municipal Stage of the Children and Youth Conference for the Environment (IAP4); the number of municipalities that implemented an environmental education program within the Solid Waste Management Plan (IAP5); the number of municipalities that implemented an environmental sustainability program in public institutions, e.g., the Environmental Agenda in Administration (IAP6); the number of municipalities that implemented the Environmental Education and Family Farming Program (IAP7); and the number of municipalities that implemented the Municipal Stage of the National Environmental Conference (IAP8).
To analyze the data, the structural equation modeling method was applied. The partial least squares (PLS) software was used. PLS is a method of structural equation modeling which allows estimating complex cause-effect relationship models with latent variables (Hair Jr. et al. 2016). Smart PLS is a software that consists of a measurement model and a structural model (Hall 2008). The method is essentially a regression sequence in terms of weight vectors (Henseler et al. 2009). PLS is especially pertinent to this study because it does not require normally distributed data and is suitable for small amounts of data (Hair Jr. et al. 2016). For the analysis of the structural model, bootstrapping was applied using 5000 samples.
In the case of structures with more than one level of equations, as proposed in this research, the use of PLS allows us to understand the model completely. We used the multivariate analysis known as partial least squares structural equation modeling (PLS-SEM). PLS is a latent variable modeling technique that incorporates multiple dependent constructs, explicitly recognizes measurement error (Fornell 1982) and has been used in a number of studies (Hall 2008; Aranda-Usón et al. 2019; Cheah et al. 2019; Alvarez-Mendoza et al. 2019).
According to Hair Jr. et al. (2016), this technique is suitable for research that wants to test or expand theoretical propositions. This work sought to expand the established knowledge based on the relationships among resources and training and financial, environmental, and social performance. Another important feature of PLS-SEM is that, unlike other statistical techniques, it makes no assumption of the normality of the data distributions (Sarstedt and Mooi 2014).
According to Hair Jr. et al. (2016), confirmatory analyses are used when testing the hypotheses of existing theories or concepts. Additionally, exploratory analyses are used when searching for latent patterns in the data if there is no or little prior knowledge about how the variables are related. In structural equations, confirmatory factor analysis is usually considered because the previous literature provides support on the factor structure used (Fávero et al. 2009). In the present study, the measures of the constructs are already known in the literature (Hart 1995; Dao et al. 2011; Alam et al. 2019; Huo et al. 2019; Cheah et al. 2019). Bootstrapping is used to determine the standard coefficient errors to assess their statistical significance, without relying on distributional assumptions (Hair Jr. et al. 2016).
Results and discussion
Results the factor loading, reliability, and validity of the variables
As shown in Table 2, those variables with factors less than 0.6 were removed from the model. To measure the reliability of the model, CR (composite reliability) was used. The CR values exceeded the value of 0.8, as suggested in the literature (Hair Jr. et al. 2016). The convergent validity of the variables was assessed using AVE (average variance extracted). The results indicate that the reliability of the model meets the measurement criteria. Table 2 shows that the AVE values ranged from 0.677 to 0.984, exceeding the recommended value of 0.6 (Hair Jr. et al. 2016). Overall, the PLS results indicate that each construct exhibits reliability and validity above the values recommended in the literature (Hair Jr. et al. 2016).
Cross-loading matrix-final factor loads
From the analysis, it can be seen if the relationships among the constructs and connections have statistical validity, according to the structure of a theoretically constructed path diagram (Hair Jr. et al. 2016).
PLS structural model: path coefficients and t statistics
Training positively and significantly affects economic, social, and environmental performance (see Table 4). The level of significance between training and social and environmental performance is β = 0.411 (p value < 0.01) and β = 0.903 (p value < 0.01), respectively. The relationship between training and economic performance is also positive and significant, with a β of 0.187 and a p value < 0.10. These findings show that, together, municipal resources and training affect economic, social, and environmental performance, accounting for approximately 51.6%, 47.5%, and 88.4% of the relationship (R2), respectively.
The present study showed that both the use of public resources and training affect the economic, social, and environmental performance of Brazilian municipalities. Therefore, it is evident that government authorities play a fundamental role in sustainable development, which corroborates the results of the study by Eryildiz and Xhexhi (2012).
The present study also corroborates the results of Qdais (2007), Carvalho et al. (2018), Nikolaou et al. (2018), Hart (1995), Dao et al. (2011), Alam et al. (2019), and Huo et al. (2019) by showing that domestic resources improve sustainable development. The findings also corroborate the results of Mieg (2012), Szymaniec-Mlicka (2014), Barrutia and Echebarria (2015), and Carvalho et al. (2018) by finding evidence that financial, organizational, and human resources are important for sustainable development because they increase the competitive advantage of municipalities.
However, it should be noted that each resource (financial, human, and organizational) can influence sustainable development (economic, social, and environmental performance) differently. Therefore, the study showed that municipal resources (specific financial resources for sustainable development), human resources (municipal employees with permanent employment), and organizational resources (integrated management plan) provide a competitive advantage for municipalities because they improve economic and social performance.
This finding stems from the data on Brazilian municipalities, which showed that municipal resources provide better performance for the economic (taxation management, own-source revenue, and payroll expenses) and social (social development, employment and income generation, education and health) performance indices. According to Carvalho et al. (2018), this can be explained by the fact that the inclusion of sustainable development in municipalities attracts investment and workers, encourages ecotourism, and provides employment and income generation opportunities for citizens. The findings of the present study show that the use of municipal resources for sustainable development can improve economic and social performance, thus representing a competitive advantage for municipalities.
Another finding in this study is the influence of training on sustainable development. Corroborating the studies of Rahman et al. (2015) and Pinzone et al. (2019), training has a positive influence on financial and non-financial performance. According to Jabbour (2015), training is a key component in organizational performance. Thus, in Brazilian municipalities, training offered in the fields of environmental education, social participation, and sustainable development improves social performance (social development, employment and income generation, education and health) and environmental performance (e.g., the implementation of programs and initiatives such as the “Collective Educator” environmental education program; “Green Room” environmental education program; “Green Screen Circuit” independent movie screening; solid waste management; environmental sustainability in public institutions; the Environmental Education and Family Farming Program; and the Municipal Stage of the National Environmental Conference.
As in the research of Gomez-Conde et al. (2019), the present study shows that municipalities with specific training (environmental education, social participation, and sustainable development themes) have employees who can make better decisions to improve environmental, social, and economic performance. This enables the implementation of plans and public policies for sustainable development (programs: the “Collective Educator” environmental education program; “Green Room” environmental education program; “Green Screen Circuit” independent movie screening; solid waste management; environmental sustainability in public institutions; the Environmental Education and Family Farming Program; and Municipal Stage of the National Environmental Conference). The findings also corroborate the results of Schutzer (2012), showing that greater knowledge of sustainable development assists in the implementation of plans and public policies.
Based on the results of the study and the findings reported in the literature that support the research hypotheses, it can be claimed that municipal resources and training influence municipal sustainable development. Internal resources (financial, human, and organizational), in particular, influence economic and social performance and represent a competitive advantage for municipalities. In other words, when internal resources are used to include aspects of sustainable development, competitive advantage can be achieved, for example, the attraction of investment and talent, which results in the economic improvement of the municipality and of people’s quality of life. In addition, training is also a key factor in the sustainability of municipalities. Employee knowledge of sustainability issues is crucial for the implementation of plans and public policies for the purpose of municipal sustainable development.
The objective of the present research was to analyze the effect of using public resources and training on the sustainable development of Brazilian municipalities. For that purpose, 2017 data from 5569 municipalities were analyzed. The data were collected in the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) census and analyzed using structural equation modeling with Smart PLS.
The results show that internal resources and training have a positive impact on municipal sustainable development. Particularly, municipalities whose employees have permanent employment, with social participation in forums and workplace environment committees, and with specific financial resources for sustainability present better economic and social performance than municipalities without such resources, which can have positive effects on environmental performance. This information can offer a practical contribution for municipal managers since it reveals that targeting internal resources for sustainable development may have a greater impact in terms of results for municipalities.
The study also showed that training is critical to the implementation of sustainability management programs. Training on specific sustainable development themes such as environmental education, social participation, and other specific topics enables employees to broaden their knowledge of sustainable development, thereby improving the implementation of public plans and policies. In addition, training can also improve the social performance of Brazilian municipalities, supporting the decisions of managers to expand plans and public policies that can improve social development, employment, income generation, and people’s quality of life.
The limitations of this study are that the data were consolidated by the subnational government (because of the database); only 1 year was analyzed; and data were treated using structural equations.
Future research should determine which sustainable development goals (SDG) are adopted by municipalities since this research only considered the aspects of economic performance (tax management, own-source revenue, and payroll expenses), social performance (social development, employment and income generation, education and health), and environmental performance (the implementation of programs and initiatives such as the “Collective Educator” environmental education program; “Green Room” environmental education program; “Green Screen Circuit” independent movie screening; solid waste management; environmental sustainability in public institutions; the Environmental Education and Family Farming Program; and the Municipal Stage of the National Environmental Conference).
In addition, future studies should also identify the determinant factors of the use of resources and training in municipalities to analyze the influences that determine the types of training and their adherence to sustainable development.
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