SDG 12: Why this UN goal should provide guidance to businesses, especially law firms

By Guest Blogger

Eliza Bond, LSA Intern

The United Nations has long been criticised for generality, idealism and impotence – the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched in 2015, have not been exempt from this criticism. More specifically, SDG 12 –‘ensur[ing] sustainable consumption and production’ is said to obfuscate the ever-growing nature of global demand. However, we believe that the goals of SDG 12 are not only feasibly achievable by 2030, but can be implemented in a cost-effective manner in a corporate environment such as a law firm.

SDG 12 itself centres upon the basic premise of the ‘3 Rs’: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It encourages both consumers and producers to adopt sensible and sustainable practices in order to mitigate the disastrous impact that we humans have been having on the environment. We believe that this clause embodies the spirit of the entire agenda as it directly addresses the important role that businesses play in curbing over-consumption and production, as well as the role that companies play in influencing consumer behaviour.

So, what is the relevance of all this to law firms specifically, given that they are largely in a services industry? We believe this application is twofold: firstly, law firms, big or small, are corporate entities that can set good precedent for other businesses. Taking simple steps such as using recycled paper, switching to digital and sourcing sustainable food (for example) not only improve law firms’ CSR reputation, but also encourages other businesses to do the same, whether they are in the legal industry or not. The collaborative difference is therefore extremely significant. Secondly, due to lawyers’ close interaction with all different aspects of society, we believe that they can play a profound role in influencing consumer behaviour.

Arguably, in a globalised world, corporations have more power to affect the actions and conduct of society as a whole. For example, Wragge & Co, a UK-headquartered international law firm, not only took initiatives to reduce their own waste and consumption, such as default double-sided printing and e-filing, but also launched an advocacy campaign. A mini-documentary and a paper mountain of 467144 sheets of paper proved a persuasive reminder on the need for both corporations and consumers to change their behaviour.

In particular, Linklaters have been leading the way in this initiative to make SDG 12 part of the spirit and policy of the firm. Since 2010, emissions from the firm’s purchased electricity have reduced by 35%, and 65% of this is sourced from renewable supplies. Our 10-year Anniversary Report shows that emissions have reduced by 15% per person across LSA member firms with an average cost saving of £130 per employee for electricity emissions. This demonstrates that the goal of reducing consumption and production is not only possible within a corporate context, but makes firms more productively efficient. Significantly, client demand is in evidence, too.  For example, Linklaters reported that last year that over 30 clients asked how the firm manages environmental sustainability, reiterating the point that the impact of adopting sustainable policies, in accordance with SDG 12, has an impact on consumer behaviour.

Eliza Bond is a guest blogger and summer intern at the LSA, and will be reading Law at Jesus College, Cambridge, beginning in October 2017

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