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The four-stage approach

Four stage approach
The procurement process can be broken down into four broad stages (see diagram above). However, please note that these stages are interconnected and should be considered flexible to suit the service in question.

Stage one - identify requirement
Stage two - plan
Stage three - select
Stage four - manage

Stage one - identify requirement

This stage is about gathering information and defining the service required. It is vital in helping you later communicate your requirements to the prospective suppliers (the term 'suppliers' encompasses anybody providing services, goods or both to the customer). With reference to sustainability, this stage relates to collecting information on where the service is exposed to environmental issues either directly or indirectly.

It is at this stage that you need to consider how important sustainability is to your firm, especially relative to the other concerns such as cost and quality of service in terms of this particular product. There may be compromises to make but equally, good sustainability credentials should not preclude quality of service or keen pricing.

The key questions to be asked at this stage are:

  1. What are your current usage levels? Quantify the material and manpower used in the service and consider whether you need to maintain those usage levels. Indeed, do you need the service at all - often service contracts are renewed without a review of the ongoing benefits to firms and their clients. This stage might reveal opportunities to improve by re-scoping the work, or packaging it more appropriately with other services.
  2. Have you considered alternative methods of performing the services?
  3. Can the service be separated into different tiers? Could it be provided by an existing supplier whose approach to sustainability is already proven, which may enable the firm to achieve sustainability improvements more easily, as well as the reduced costs associated with managing fewer suppliers?
  4. What waste is associated with your product and how can this be reduced? Suppliers can help here, they may be able to reduce waste (and therefore cost) by reviewing and redesigning the service, but it will need a collaborative approach.
  5. How important is sustainability to your business - particularly in relation to the service in question? It may be difficult to drive through necessary changes without the broader buy-in across the firm.

Example of how to apply the key questions to paper procurement:

  1. Do you need to use so much paper? If it is still required, could you duplex document production?
  2. As an alternative to paper production, could you move to e-filing?
  3. Could you use differing qualities of paper for differing services (i.e. if there are concerns over recycled paper being of a lower quality, then could it be used for internal documents?)
  4. How is the paper packaged? Could this be made more efficient and sustainable?
  5. If clients are asking about your sustainability policies and practices, paper is likely to be a service that will be scrutinised. Do your clients have sustainable paper procurement policies in place?

Stage two - plan

Stage two is where you take the information gathered in Stage one and set out a vision of what you want to achieve for the service. This will entail preparing a specification and/or guide document that can be issued to prospective suppliers (often as part of a tender process). The content should specifically address green issues and could include methods to assess the supplier’s performance (i.e. How much waste material does the supplier generate? How do they measure their carbon footprint? etc.). It may be useful to consider incentives to improve measurable targets.

As the suppliers are experts in their field, it is prudent to ask them exactly how they address their green issues (a simple instance of this is to ask whether they are accredited to the internationally recognised environmental management system ISO14001 or not). The size of the supplier will dictate whether this is practical or not.

The key questions to be asked at this stage are:

  1. Ask the supplier to identify the sustainability risks associated with running its business and what it is doing to mitigate them.
  2. Ask the supplier to identify the sustainability risks associated with its supply chains and what it is doing to mitigate them.
  3. Ask to review the supplier’s environmental policy and request evidence to prove that it implements the policy. Policies are a good starting point, but examples of good practice not only provide evidence but also prevent wasted effort in firms and suppliers 'reinventing wheels'.
  4. Request sustainable alternatives for products and services from the supplier in your tender.
  5. What other information may be gathered to demonstrate the supplier’s attitude to sustainability? Case studies demonstrating success in this respect are valuable.

Example of how to apply the key questions to paper procurement:

  1. Is the supplier offering recycled and/or virgin source products? Can they demonstrate the advantages of each type and have they identified their sustainability risks?
  2. How does the supplier source the energy required to produce the paper? Have they mitigated this by obtaining energy from green sources?
  3. Has the supplier provided a clear and comprehensive sustainability policy?
  4. Have you asked the supplier to provide information and costs on recycled and virgin source alternatives? In some instances the virgin paper may in fact have less impact on sustainability than recycled paper.
  5. Does the supplier have ISO14001 accreditation or any other clear commitments to improve their sustainability? Do they have any examples of where they have implemented measures to reduce carbon emissions?

Stage three - select

When the prospective supplier has returned its information to you based on engagement at stage two, you must consider the sustainability criteria in the proposals alongside other matters. A supplier may offer 'greener' goods but these may come at a premium in terms of cost. The supplier may offer to reduce its carbon footprint by reducing deliveries to your premises, but is this acceptable? Beyond the direct impacts, what does the supplier do to mitigate its own carbon footprint?

Each business will place differing emphasis on the importance of green matters: the selection stage should be seen as an opportunity to confirm whether you are committed to them.

The key questions to be asked at this stage are:

  1. How important is sustainability in your decision-making process (this relates back to stage one and its key question 5)? Is sustainability being given a high enough priority in your assessment of the supplier responses?
  2. Has the supplier demonstrated credibility and an awareness of sustainability (this may be through accreditation, policies, case studies, etc.)?
  3. If the supplier were to be appointed, how would it ensure that it continued to improve its sustainability credentials?

Example of how to apply the key questions to paper procurement:

  1. If the most sustainable paper option costs more than a less sustainable option, will you still commit to it?
  2. Does the supplier’s tender include comprehensive information on sustainability and do they clearly relate to proposals for your service?
  3. Would you consider employing incentives to encourage the supplier to provide improvements to the services? Can the supplier provide evidence of continual improvement with other clients?

Stage four - manage

Once the supplier has been appointed, the customer should review the process regularly and actively encourage the supplier to improve its green credentials. Additionally, you should require that the supplier highlights any innovations it has implemented or is considering. The ongoing management of the supplier should be seen as a process of continual improvement.

The key questions to be asked at this stage are:

  1. Have you put measures in place to monitor future performance in relation to sustainability?
  2. Are there incentives (e.g. the possibility of future work or references) for the supplier to bring innovations to you? Are you prepared to work collaboratively with the supplier to develop and implement sustainability innovations?
  3. Is there flexibility in your agreement to allow new, more sustainable ideas to be implemented? Does the contract encourage or restrict this kind of continuous improvement?

Example of how to apply the key questions to paper procurement:

  1. Include requirements to measure the supplier’s carbon footprint within your Key Performance Indicators.
  2. To encourage the supplier to work to improve your carbon footprint, consider performance-based bonuses or incentives with regard to sustainability.

Make a commitment from the outset to improve the sustainability performance of part of the contract agreement.

Additional downloadable product examples for law firms: