Sustainable purchasing– is defined by the Sustainable Purchasing Network as "a management process for acquiring goods and services in a way that gives preference to suppliers that generate positive social and environmental outcomes, and that integrates sustainability considerations into product selection so that impacts on society and the environment are minimized throughout the full life cycle of the product." 

Here are some examples of how large companies are pushing sustainable purchasing:

1.  Hewlett Packard Announces Disclosure of Supplier CO2 Emissions–  "HP’s continued leadership in supply chain transparency will result in positive operational changes in environmental practices and will encourage other companies to do more to advance supply chain responsibility,"

2.  Alcan Adops Guidelines for Sustainable Supplier Relationships- In its brochure, Alcan says it "will terminate contracts with suppliers who fail to adhere to the principles" set forth in its sustainability guidelines. 

3.  Walmart Leads Retailers Towards Sustainability–  Walmart announced it will require all suppliers to demonstrate that their factories meet specific environmental, social and quality standards. Walmart will include certification and compliance components in its supplier agreements for verification of sustainability efforts. 

So, the question I have is whether use of outside professional services, such as legal services, should be examined under the same sustainable purchasing guidelines? 

I would very much like to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please comment on this post to start a discussion.  Here is some food for thought….

  • Does Your Attorney’s Reputation Impact Your Company’s Reputation?–   If your attorney has a reputation for railing against all environmental regulations, will your company be linked to that reputation by the public, environmental groups and regulators?   Does who your attorney represents in other matters impact you in any manner?  For example, what if your attorney has been quoted in the paper defending a company seen as blatantly ignoring environmental laws.  Can that representation be connected to your company or is it just an attorney doing his job? 
  • Do the Ends Justify the Means?-  Perhaps your company is concerned with the cost of compliance with a particular environmental regulation.  Your attorney has a strong argument that regulation is illegal.  But how is the public going to view your company being named in the succesful lawsuit that tosses the regulation out?  Or, maybe your more of a strict interpretter of the law and think any regulation that is illegal in some fashion should be stricken from the books.

I think it depends on the goals of your corporation.  If your trying to develop a corporate image as a sustainable company perhaps you should view your attorney as a "supplier."  However, if your motivation in choosing professional service providers is their capability regardless of their image, then it shouldn’t matter much.

If you decide to examine your attorney under the sustainable principle microscope, here is a list of possible actions. 

  1. Ask your lawyer or law firm whether they have adopted any sustainable principles in their own organization.   Example in Cleveland Plain Dealer, Green Law Offices Try and Reduce Paper Waste.
  2. Ask your lawyer or law firm whether they have provided any Pro Bono services to sustainable causes or provide service to the community.
  3. Ask other companies, professional associations, regulators or even a respected environmental group about the reputation of your attorney.  Are they an "agency basher" or seen as effective counsel that people like to work with?
  4. Ask your attorney where they stand on key issues you care about, such as Climate Change. 
  5. Ask for examples or search for them on-line of recent successes, press coverage, or activities of your law firm or attorney that provide insight to their reputaiton or activities.

Maybe you disagree entirely with the notion you should interview your attorney or law firm as a supplier.  If so,  I would like to hear from you as well. 


(Image from UN’s Division of Sustainable Development)