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

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

Air travel in the legal sector: Time for a change in culture?

[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]

Despite seeing a marked decline in overall carbon footprints of LSA members since our inception 10 years ago, it seems we have gained little traction in reducing air travel, with the average km per head still at 4,000. Although we have access to the technology to prompt the shift towards this reduction, law firms – for the most part – are reticent to take the plunge. Perhaps this is an indication that the problem is not practical, it’s cultural.

With traditional business practice reliant on face-to-face interactions, as well as the added importance of client relations in the legal industry, it is little surprise that air travel has become a necessity. Not only this, but with international travel acting as an incentive to climb up the employment ladder, there is an expectation that jetting across the globe is an afforded luxury gained when someone becomes a more senior lawyer. Although this problem may be to some extent mitigated by a generation of millennials – many of whom are technologically and environmentally minded – entering more senior positions, law firms need to take the initiative themselves and not rely on a gradual shift that may or may not occur.

Having said this, many firms have made giant leaps in introducing new technologies to reduce the reliance on air travel. For instance, in 2009 DLA Piper launched Telepresence, heralded as the ‘future of law communications’, in many of their US branches such as Baltimore, New York and Washington DC.  This has now been expanded to the majority of their offices globally. Further still, in 2013 they launched a strategic internal initiative to reduce transport costs, which increased their usage of Lync, an instant messaging tool by 75%. We believe that with an increasingly globalized industry as a result of international mergers, other LSA members must follow in the DLA Piper’s footsteps.

Similarly, although only at a national level in the UK, Bond Pearce (which became part of Bond Dickinson in 2014) introduced HD conferencing units in 2007, saving over 165840 miles of travelling. There is little reason for this kind of technology not to be applied on an international scale.

Obviously, this kind of change cannot be unilateral. It not only requires the co-operation of multiple branches and firms, but also the co-operation of clients. Some matters ought and need to be settled face-to-face – this is accepted. Yet the majority of meetings do not need this kind of formality, especially in a world where the technology is so accessible and user-friendly. With several firms such as Morgan’s Solicitors, Burges Salmon and Nicholas Moore adopting policies to reduce commuter travel at a small scale, and indeed reaping the benefits of such changes such as reducing average emissions per employee, law firms urgently need to address their biggest contributor of carbon emissions.

Although at first it may be difficult to change the attitude towards eliminating air travel, it can soon become routine and will not only be extremely valuable for a company’s public relations and CSR records, but will also reduce costs which are, to some extent, unnecessary.

       

Guest blogger:  Merrow Golden, pupil at Francis Taylor Building and conference newcomer

[UKELA is the leading membership organisation for anyone interested in environmental law and organises events and CPD for environmental and legal professionals. The LSA and UKELA have synergies and some shared membership. UKELA’s annual conference – this year in Nottingham – is a great way to get to know the network. Click here for more information about what’s on offer and how to join.]

What better place to hold this year’s UKELA conference, entitled “Cities of the Future”, than in Nottingham – a city dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, whose previous inhabitants had lived in sandstone caves, but which in 2017 transported eager conference attendees to the sign-in desks by public trams and biogas buses.  In light of the world’s growing city-based populations, the conference attempted to tackle the key challenges facing modern-day cities, not least the challenge of sustainable living.

Activities began with a welcome by the outgoing Chair, Stephen Sykes, who introduced and congratulated incoming Chair, Anne Johnstone, before handing over to the two keynote speakers, Dr Alfonso Vegara (via video-address) and Dr Richard Miller, both of whom suggested a number of innovative approaches to sustainable urban living in the modern world.

The insight continued into the first plenary session, chaired by Maria Adebowale-Schwarte, (Director of the Living Space Project). Discussion ranged from tackling air quality in London (Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor on Climate Change, London) to new ways of combining flood-risk management with open spaces and making the impossible possible (one can now swim in the Copenhagen Harbour!) (Christian Nerup Nielsen, Director, Ramboll Water); and, from the complications of planning controls around the world (Robert Lewis-Lettington, UN-HABITAT) to the cities of the future (Professor Peter Sharratt, University of Westminster and WSP).

Attendees were then treated to updates, both at home and abroad, chaired by the Rt. Hon Lord Carnwath of Notting Hill.  Brexit first, and here we were guided by Professor Richard Macrory and Andrew Bryce who gave an overview of the impressive and crucial work ongoing by the UKELA Brexit Task Force.  Next, the US and a window into what the Trump administration could mean for environmental law, skilfully provided by Seth Davies (Chair of the American Bar Association’s, Section of Environmental Energy and Resources).

There was just time for the UKELA AGM and a quick break before the evening’s festivities began.  James Burton and Kirsty Schneeburger mastered the way through a city-themed quiz (challenging even the best minds in the room…) and there was live music from Nottingham’s own “Pesky Alligators” (the latter continuing on into the early hours!).

After a few strong cups of coffee we were into day two. Beginning with a discussion on legal and regulatory tools for sustainable cities, chaired by Anne Johnstone. Mike Barlow (Burges Salmon) addressed the “carrots and sticks” being used to achieve energy efficiency in building design and David Elvin QC (Landmark Chambers) considered the scope for use of compulsory purchase powers in regeneration projects.  What can be achieved in practice through thoughtful design and planning of sustainable places was highlighted by Phillip Villars (Managing Director, Indigo Planning) but, crucially, we were reminded of what can, and has, gone wrong with bad planning and inadequate resources by Hugh Ellis (Town and Country Planning Association).

A detailed, yet wide-ranging, case law update was provided by Richard Honey (Francis Taylor Building) before we turned our attention to the future with the final plenary discussion chaired by David Hart QC (1 Crown Office Row).  Attendees were treated to insights into current hot topics of air quality and transport (Ravi Mehta, Blackstone Chambers and Mark Daly, Nottingham City Council) and flooding and drainage (Estelle Palin, Environment Agency and James Dodds, Managing Director, Envireau), picking up on lessons learnt and ideas for moving forward.

The afternoon was filled with engaging working party sessions, covering an array of subjects from Wild Law to Climate Change and Energy and followed by a choice of local activities in and around Nottingham.

Finally, the event drew to a close in style with a beautiful gala dinner held at Nottingham Castle on a warm summer’s evening.  Built in 1068, and still going strong, the Castle provided a perfect location to reflect on the weekend’s discussions for future city-planning and to top it off John Henry Looney (Founder and Managing Director, Sustainable Direction Ltd) gave a thought-provoking speech, in which he challenged us all to challenge ourselves and the extent to which our own lives are sustainable.

 

Hope for the future

Within hours of President Trump pulling the USA out of the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change, it was heartening to see dozens of large businesses reaffirm their commitment to the terms of the agreement – BP, Shell, Nike, Tesla, Microsoft and IBM are some of the well known household brands who are prepared to put the future of the planet above personal or political motivations.

The leaders of those organisations know that we have no option. They, as Barack Obama said, have already chosen a low carbon future. His statement, quoted here in full, gives all those who are committed to taking responsible action a degree of hope that all the good work of Paris will not be lost.

“A year and a half ago, the world came together in Paris around the first-ever global agreement to set the world on a low-carbon course and protect the world we leave to our children.

It was steady, principled American leadership on the world stage that made that achievement possible. It was bold American ambition that encouraged dozens of other nations to set their sights higher as well. And what made that leadership and ambition possible was America’s private innovation and public investment in growing industries like wind and solar – industries that created some of the fastest new streams of good-paying jobs in recent years, and contributed to the longest streak of job creation in our history.

Simply put, the private sector already chose a low-carbon future. And for the nations that committed themselves to that future, the Paris Agreement opened the floodgates for businesses, scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation on an unprecedented scale.

The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got”

Science Based Targets

More and more organisations are beginning to look at setting greenhouse gas emission targets in line with climate science as a way to future-proof growth (the shorthand for this is “Science Based Targets” or SBTs).  So far, according to the Science Based Target Initiative, 265 companies are taking action around SBTs, with 44 setting approved targets.  These include a range of organisations but there are many big names in the list who will be familiar to a lot of LSA Members.  To me, the logic behind the need for SBTs seems relatively simple: (1) Do I accept that anything more than a 2 degree C rise in global temperature will have a disastrous impact on our life on earth? (2) Do I accept that carbon emissions from man-made sources are driving global temperature up?  (3) Do I agree that science can help to tell us what reduction in emissions each sector needs to achieve the level of decarbonisation needed to keep temperature rise to below 2 degrees C? (4) Do I agree that setting an appropriate target based on this science makes good sense?  If my answer to each of (1) to (4) is YES, then it may be the right time for my firm or organisation to think about setting a science based target.

The steps which the Science Based Target Initiative suggest to set a SBT are pretty straightforward – Commit to doing it; Develop a target; Submit your SBT for scrutiny; Announce you’ve done it.  There are plenty of tools, tips and techniques available – we would love to hear the thoughts and experiences of LSA member firms and their clients who may be considering setting a SBT or even done so already.

 

The Business Case for Sustainability in the Legal Sector

Steve Malkin, CEO of Planet First and Founder of The Planet Mark™

I recently heard a board-level target that sought to increase margins by reducing by a net 1% the cost of travel through resource efficiency, vehicle procurement and behaviour change. These, the board considered, fell into the remit of sustainability because that is where business value was being generating. The company in question has seen double-digit growth whilst reducing its carbon per employee annually for seven years.

The board’s action demonstrated to me that this business really got sustainability; not only is it reducing its operational costs, but it is using these achievements to enhance its reputation and is winning more business as a result.

The company in question is not from the legal profession, but that is not the point. Sustainability works across all sectors primarily because of three challenges faced by any business – and sustainability addresses all three. They are:

1. Reputational enhancement

2. Customer attraction

3. Talent acquisition and retention.

There is a fourth challenge: cost saving. This is often less of challenge in the services sector, then say in manufacturing and construction. Nevertheless, I have not yet experienced a case where cost saving is not seen as a benefit in the service sector, so communicating cost saving and payback periods of sustainability initiatives are always important.

Challenges of the legal profession

Experience tells me that the legal profession is no different from any other sector in terms of facing these common challenges. Where it may differ from other sectors is in its approach to sustainability.

Firstly, I would say that it is crudely split in two when it comes to sustainability: those who have been developing sustainable practices and reporting for some time on them and those that are just starting out. (Apologies for the lack of nuance).

The challenge, as I see it, for the former group is that many think that sustainability is being addressed, that processes are in place and, much like health and safety, it is mainstream. The reality is that sustainable practices are often not embedded and business travel, and especially flights, remain a major issue. The challenge here is often cultural and it is likely that attitudes will not change until driven by either customer demand or when a new generation of partners gain traction.

For legal practices new to sustainability, the issues are often around bandwidth and internal resource. Typically, sustainability is the remit of a service department but it will only be successfully implemented once it has the full commitment from the fee earners.

For both groups, the unifying challenge is often how to shift the culture of an organisation and encourage behaviour change. Fully communicating the business benefits in terms of risk and opportunity is the starting point.

The Planet Mark™ puts forward a business case that directly connects positive impacts on society and the environment with cost savings, alignment with customer values and opportunities to win business. When you set targets and quantify your progress, by reducing your carbon emissions, for example, you provide evidence of your values in action. External verification of your progress in sustainability enables you to communicate with confidence.

Sustainability opens opportunities to talk about the way you do business, your expertise and your company culture. You will see the benefit to your reputation, your talent acquisition and attraction of new customers. Besides which, the world of sustainability needs a well-informed legal sector to navigate the transition to a low carbon, more sustainable future. What better way to play that role than to fully embrace sustainability within your own workplace?

About The Planet Mark™:  Founded three years ago with the iconic Eden Project in Cornwall, UK, The Planet Mark™ is awarded to businesses, properties, new developments and projects that are committed to reducing their carbon emissions.  Since it launched in 2013, The Planet Mark™ has certified over 100 organisations and delivered an average carbon emissions reduction of 5% per employee per annum for its clients. Planet Markcertified businesses have a minimum requirement to reduce their carbon emissions by 2.5% per year. To find out more click here.

NOTE:  The LSA and The Planet Mark™ are running specialist workshops from June this year.  See more in the Events section of the LSA website.  Steve says: “Sustainability programmes are really about good business practice.  Doing the right thing delivers fast and far-reaching positive impacts on society, the environment and profitability. These specialist workshops gather the latest expertise and are a must-attend for practices across the UK”

To access a calendar of sustainability events for 2017, click here

Do clients care about CSR when engaging law firms? Maybe…

Dr Steven Vaughan, Law School, University of Birmingham

One of the most striking changes in the legal profession over the last four decades is the shift in the balance of power between lawyers and their clients… in favour of the clients. This is for various reasons, including: (i) increased competition between law firms (partly down to national growth, partly down to globalisation); (ii) the rise of the in-house lawyer community (who are better able to price and scope legal work, and to do some of that work for themselves); and (iii) a ‘more for less’ client agenda on fees post the financial crisis. One of the ways in which this reoriented balance of power manifests itself is in how major corporates and financial institutions, as well as governments and public bodies, seek to impose their own terms of engagement on law firms. A number of clients engage law firms via panels; a competitive process whereby law firms pitch to be one of a number of dedicated lawyers for the client. One of the conditions of these panel processes is often the acceptance of detailed, mandatory sets of terms and conditions (also often known as ‘outside counsel guidelines’). These guidelines cover a variety of matters, from fee arrangements to secondments, IT security, conflicts of interest etc. Other work has shown how these guidelines can be used by clients to gain information (and to improve) a law firm’s policies on diversity: for example, through requiring that a certain number of women lawyers are staffed on matters done for that client. As such, these guidelines can lead to clients having a positive impact on their law firms, and can lead law firms to improve their policies and practices to win client work.

Running alongside the push by clients to get more out of their law firms (through contracting and guidelines) is a push by many clients to improve on their sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Here, large corporate actors in the West have reported on environmental matters since the 1970s, although a sustained emphasis on environmental disclosures as part of CSR was not apparent until the 1990s.  In other work, I have been interested in the extent to which large law firms have engaged in CSR. What I found is that the public commitment of the top 100 law firms in England & Wales to CSR is widespread. The majority say, on their websites, something to the wider world about CSR. However, what is said varies significantly. This is, perhaps, unsurprising. What is more surprising is that so few firms explain why they are committed to CSR. As general trend, the lower ranking of the law firm, the less they say about CSR and the less likely they are to explain their CSR motivations, although there are some notable exceptions to the rule at both ends of the rankings. Consistently, the top ten firms outperform lower ranked firms on all elements of CSR. We might speculate as to why this is so. Such might reflect greater resources devoted to CSR by those firms (a corollary of their size, turnover and reach) and/or a greater desire to make additional work-related offerings to their employees in the form of CSR activities. It might reflect the client base of those firms (who may be more interested than other clients in CSR). These largest firms might also be more susceptible to approaches taken by, and the impacts of cultural differences from, US law firms. Finally, it may be that competition for work is fiercest between these top ten firms compared with other firms.

What we also don’t (as yet) know is the extent which sustainability/CSR is a factor in the commissioning of legal services (the forward slash is there because most of the top 100 law firms speak of CSR or corporate responsibility, with sustainability being part of this: and I am guessing this is the same for other firms too). Does the large, global bank which is committed to sustainability choose Law Firm X over Law Firm Y because of Firm X’s policies and practices on CSR? Does the government agency compel or require Firm X to do A, B, C when it comes to CSR as part of their outside counsel guidelines? Equally, it’s interesting to think about whether business development-savvy law firms are reorienting their CSR policies and practices, and targeting ‘green’ clients specifically in an attempt to win work.

Over the course of this year, I am going to speak to private practice lawyers, and to their clients, to better understand the extent to which sustainability is (or can be, or should be) a driver in the commissioning of legal services. If you work in private practice, you can help me out by filling in this short survey, which is Phase 1 of the project.

Watch this space.

A leap of faith into 2017

At the end of 2016 we (the LSA) decided to take a bit of a leap of faith by running a debating competition for students and undergraduates with the focus on the role the law plays in promoting sustainability.  We did this in conjunction with the Woodland Trust and linked the debate to the Charter for Trees, Woods and People which is involving over 50 organisations from across multiple sectors and which will be launched in November this year.  We hoped we would hear fresh views and ideas from young people – a group we don’t often hear from – about the law and sustainability.

This was this a leap of faith because engaging younger people in this way is something the LSA has never really done before – we simply weren’t sure what the level of interest would be.  What we heard from the 27 teams who participated was hugely encouraging and helped us to look ahead into 2017 and beyond with a real sense of optimism.

We know there are still many challenges ahead (for example, the need to keep focused on tackling climate change through reducing the carbon footprint of all our activities, addressing the pressing need to manage the consumption of natural resources to stay within the capacity of our planet to support, address the growing problem of air quality (particularly in our cities), keeping people engaged in the issue when there are other pressing issues to be dealt with, etc. etc.).  What each of the teams demonstrated so ably was that sustainability is by no means a forgotten issue or a done deal.  They showed that there is a whole new generation of legal professionals coming through who care passionately about the state of the planet and its impact on people’s quality of life, who recognise the important role the legal system plays in protecting and maintaining these, and who are alive to the opportunities they now have through the interpretation, application and practice of law to make a positive difference.

So, huge congratulations to all who took part in the LSA’s inaugural Student Debating Competition.  Here’s to a very positive and sustainable New Year to us all!

Agile Working, Agile Thinking

I was really excited to read a recent article in The American Lawyer about the plans Norton Rose Fulbright’s Global Chief Executive Peter Martyr has to promote a culture of more flexible and ‘agile’ working for partners and other staff at NRF.  Named in 2013 by American Lawyer as one of the top 50 innovators, this sort of thinking from him comes as no surprise.  In his words “Why can’t someone be called a partner who is working from home for two days a week, or two years?”. 

Although more and more firms are recognising that partners and other members of staff can and do work effectively and efficiently away from the office – at home or elsewhere – and that clients indeed may be better served by partners who achieve a better work-life balance, it is not yet universally accepted that ‘out of sight’ does not mean  ‘out of mind’.

As firms increasingly look to find ways to become more efficient, reduce the financial cost and carbon footprint of travel, secure and retain top talent, tap into the wealth of skills and abilities in the ‘grey worker’ market, address gender and under-represented group inbalances in their teams and so on, it is encouraging that firms like NRF (an LSA Executive Member firm) are leading the way.

Without doubt, year on year, all firms will face increasing pressure to be more efficient with their resources, to use less energy, to travel less, to demonstrate to clients that they take their responsibility to people and the environment seriously and so on.  Ultimately, I think this is all about being sustainable in its broadest sense.  It’s about looking into the future, understanding what might lie ahead for the firm – both challenges and opportunities – and setting the right course to avoid the first and grasp the latter.  It’s about being an agile thinker and a visionary leader.  I raise my hat to Peter Martyr!

Law firms, social media & sustainability

I confess!  I am not the world’s most savvy user of social media.  I am often shamed by my 96-year old mum telling me about family events and pictures she has seen on Facebook before I even think to log on and check what’s going on.  I use LinkedIn and tweet a bit, but that’s about it.  Fortunately my colleagues who also host the LSA are much more in tune and we do use social media to communicate about and promote the LSA.

I was really impressed, therefore, when I read an article on law.com about how well a number of LSA member law firms are using social media.  The American Lawyer ranked 100 firms on its 2015 Am Law 100 list of the US highest-grossing firms, ranking them on the effectiveness of their use of digital marketing and social media. They looked at social media marketing performance, reach, and engagement on social media (including Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook) and also measured the firms’ success in “thought leadership content.”

LSA executive firm members DLA Piper and Norton Rose Fulbright both featured in the top five overall, with Hogan Lovells in the top five Twitter users.

The creative and selective use of social media seems to me to be an important way in which law firms and lawyers can play the role of “wise counselors” on sustainability issues which David Rivkin, President of the International Bar Association and partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, highlighted in his recent talk to the LSA.  He reiterated what he said in his remarks to the Climate Action 2016: Catalyzing a Sustainable Future conference:

“Lawyers have expertise in developing creative solutions to issues and in working to create certainty in framing parties’ expectations. Those are particularly important skills in the topic we address today: accelerating climate action. Implementing the Paris treaty and moving forward with many of the ideas expressed yesterday and today will require innovative, new forms of agreements, including public-private partnerships, intra-industry and inter-governmental agreements and agreements among governments, corporations and local stakeholders. Lawyers must assist in framing these agreements to serve their goals; as an international arbitration lawyer, we have already begun to think of new forms of dispute resolution that can be effective for such agreements. In doing so, lawyers must think of the broad goals of society as well as their clients’ interests. They must be broad-based ‘wise counselors’ and not view their job simply as advising on the strict dictates of the law.”

 In a world which is increasingly connected and influenced by social media, it would be great to see more LSA members using it to be a positive influence on a more sustainable way of life for all.