The Legal Update

With Earth Day 2019 behind us, we are reminded that climate action is not an occasional task; it requires an on-going interrogation of our actions and a commitment to both short and long term changes. We take a look at the legal industry carbon footprint as reported by the Legal Sustainability Alliance (LSA) in 2018, and assess the business case and focus points for sustainable strategies.

Efforts to address the legal industry’s carbon footprint and play a part in the response to the global environmental crisis appear to be increasing. On beginning her term Law Society President for 2018-19, Christina Blacklaws declared her focus on sustainability as underpinning the main themes of innovation and technology, equality and diversity for her term in office.

LSA Carbon Report

Meanwhile, in the LSA’s 2018 annual Carbon Report, there has been a large increase in firms joining and declaring carbon footprint. Between 2017 and 2018, the alliance welcomed 31 new member firms, an increase of nearly 30%. Of the law firms that have been reporting regularly since 2008, figures show a 56% reduction in their combined carbon footprint and a 39% reduction in the average per capita emissions.

Carbon footprints are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). CO2e is calculated by multiplying the emissions of each of the six greenhouse gases by its 100 year global warming potential (GWP). As an example, the average person in the UK emits around 12.1 tCO2e per annum.

The total carbon footprint of all law firms reporting to the LSA was 191,836 tCO2e — with an average figure of 3.24 tCO2e per employee — an 11% reduction since 2017 and 21% reduction on the 2016 figure.

Over the past three years, paper use by reporting firms has reduced by 9% from a total of 4676 tonnes in 2016 to 4249 tonnes in 2017, suggesting that there is still work to be done to get firms to increase their use of digital documentation.

Another area for improvement was carbon emissions associated with water used, significantly increasing from 690 tCO2e in 2017 to 1712 tCO2e in 2018, but this was largely due to 12 more firms reported their usage (like for like shows almost identical usage in 2017 and 2018). Carbon associated with waste produced by reporting firms had also increased by 23%, again due to more firms reporting to the LSA.

Becoming Carbon Neutral

Most recently, Thomson Reuters declared their Earth Day commitment to becoming carbon neutral. In a recent press release, the organisation announced goals to become carbon neutral in 2019 and to convert to 100% renewable energy usage globally by 2020.

Thomson Reuters has undertaken a carbon offset strategy which is geographically informed by its global footprint. As a result, the carbon offsets will have positive impacts worldwide in major markets that the company operates, including Brazil, Canada, India, and the U.S.

“Not only is it the right thing to do from an environmental perspective, but it’s what employees and customers are asking us to do,” said Stephane Bello, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Thomson Reuters. “As a global organisation, we have a shared responsibility to do business in ways that respect, protect, and benefit our customers, employees, communities, and environment.”

Seeing a company like Thomson Reuters lead the charge and be ambitious in its timelines and targets, shows us that there is no excuse for companies – no matter their size – to ignore their responsibilities to the environment in which they make their profits.

The Business Case for Sustainability

As the environmental crisis and its global effects become more urgently apparent, we are becoming more conscious of our day to day waste and energy usage as individuals and as collective organisations. However, it has always made business sense to prioritise sustainability and resource efficiency. Corporate social and environmental responsibility is not a new concept, with public scrutiny of practices relating to waste management, pollution and labour conditions making or breaking the reputations of corporations.

According to a 2015 report on sustainability and business performance from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, 88% of research shows that solid Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) practices result in better operational performance. Companies are also reported to perform better on stock markets by 80% of studies.

The LSA sets out its own business case for cutting the legal industry carbon footprint. It states that having a carbon footprint and management plan is a good way to highlight hotspots where resources are being consumed and cost saving can be achieved. This also provides an opportunity to engage with new generations of lawyers – who prioritise ethical and environmental concerns when choosing companies to associate with – helping to bring forward new ideas for organisational innovation and transformative leadership that goes beyond meeting minimum carbon targets.

Creating Sustainable Strategies

Whether as an individual, small or large firm, it’s important to develop a dedicated strategy for reducing carbon footprints. Think about your working patterns – travel, energy consumption, resource usage – what areas need most attention?

For example, moving towards paperless working can save on paper, couriers and storage. Already paperless? Great! See where you can you cut down on energy consumption – employing energy saving measures, such as reducing unnecessary devices and utilising switch-off and downtime settings, can more than offset increasing energy costs in your offices.

Crucially, flexible working also plays a significant role in energy efficiency – better implementation of flexible and remote working policies have been shown to help to reduce office energy consumption, and lowers individual carbon footprint related to work travel. When working flexibly, as an individual it’s up to you to keep your work as green as possible at home. Take a look at these tips from a previous Attic article on working sustainably from home, and remember small changes make a big difference.

It’s also important to look beyond your organisation. Look at switching to renewable energy suppliers and other sustainability-focused suppliers of resources. Research other recycling, public transport and cycle schemes in the local community that you can take part in – the more events and sustainability focus communities you connect with, the more knowhow you will gain for better strategic implementation.

The bottom line is: it takes collaborative action, and sharing of information and ideas at all levels to change the way we do business and reduce our carbon footprint and impact on the environment.