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.

 

The Legal Update

Be they lawyers by day, legal superheroes by night or pro bono lawyers who are passionate about making the world a better place – each and every one of the lawyers below deserve recognition for outstanding legal efforts in their community and beyond. Most of them were nominated by colleagues, others by clients or by work partners. After our inaugural list of lawyers who are changing the world in 2018, the 2019 list is heavy on lawyers who deal with urgent crises threatening our society and our planet – climate change tops the list of urgent battles to be fought, but social mobility and diversity aren’t very far behind.

We could not include all the nominations but thank all of you who contacted us to recognise exceptional lawyers; we are in awe of the impressive nominations we received. Without further ado, here is the 2019 list of lawyers who are changing the world for the better.

Piya Muqit

Legal aid lawyer, Hong Kong

Lawyers who are changing the world

The executive director of the Justice Centre, a local non-profit organisation providing legal support to asylum-seekers in Hong Kong, Piya Muqit is the daughter of economic migrants who fled Bangladesh during the 1971 civil war to start a new life in Scotland. After serving as the head of policy and advocacy at UNICEF UK as well as senior legal adviser at Freedom From Torture, Piya Muqit raises awareness on issues concerning refugees in Hong Kong and presses for fairer legislation and policies. Her ambition is to expand the organisation into a regional NGO leader in human rights.

Victoria Anderson

Commercial lawyer, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Victoria Anderson is a solicitor in London who is passionate about education and diversity in the legal profession. After volunteering as a group leader for a student project at City Law School about social mobility and helping their local community, the project became a charity called Big Voice and she became CEO of Big Voice London. This social mobility charity seeks to engage young people from non-traditional backgrounds in law and legal policy. Big Voice London runs projects for young people each year, including: a Mooting Competition and introduction to the legal system in association with the UK Supreme Court, a summer school discussing growing topics of law, the country’s only Model Law Commission, plus seminars, workshops and lectures.

Rebecca Perlman

Pro bono lawyer, London (UK)

Blending business focus and corporate social responsibility, Rebecca Perlman’s job is to fight poverty and inequality – literally. While most law firms offer pro bono work to their lawyers as a side hustle, Rebecca Perlman harnessed her firm’s corporate connections and global reach to transform its pro bono work into a profit centre by supporting government and NGO initiatives in developing countries. She is also the director of the African Commercial Law Foundation, a trustee of the Prisoners’ Advice Service, a member of Oxfam’s Lawyers Against Poverty Steering Committee, co-founder of the UK Sierra Leone Pro Bono Network, and a member of the European Banks Alliance Against Human Trafficking Expert Working Group.

Angela Hayes

White collar criminal lawyer, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

For a decade, Angela Hayes has provided invaluable pro bono support to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). This international NGO fights environmental crimes by conducting detailed investigations into activities such as illegal logging and wildlife trafficking, and by publishing its findings as reports. Angela Hayes, partner at a global law firm, plays a vital role reviewing these materials for potential defamation action. On the few occasions when EIA reports are challenged, Angela has given rapid and effective advice on how to respond, thereby ensuring the situation is resolved without developing into formal legal challenges (such as EIA being sued for libel). EIA’s investigations and reports make a demonstrable impact in curtailing environmental crime, for example triggering the recent arrest of major ivory tusk traffickers by the Chinese authorities.

Chris Daw

Fraud, regulatory and criminal barrister, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Social mobility is not often associated with barristers in the United Kingdom. After starring in a film on access to the profession for The One Show, Chris Daw became a role model for aspiring barristers from non-traditional backgrounds. By speaking up on social mobility, becoming a mentor and setting a mentoring campaign, he has made a real difference for lawyers from ‘ordinary’ backgrounds who thought they would never succeed in the legal profession.

Lauree Coci

Dispute lawyer, Perth (Australia)

Lawyers who are changing the world

In addition to being pro bono coordinator in the Perth office of her firm, Lauree Coci was recognised for her professional excellence and contribution to the legal profession and wider community at the Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Awards in 2018. She was an early advocate for anti-slavery legislation in Australia, assisting Walk Free Foundation with submissions to the parliamentary inquiry and making recommendations to the Attorney-General’s Department to shape the Modern Slavery Act that came into effect in January 2019.

Sonya Bedford

Energy lawyer, Exeter (UK)

A partner and head of energy at her law firm, Sonya Bedford is passionate about renewable energies. Believing that renewable energy can take the UK to energy independence, she has been recognised for her renewable energy efforts in the southwest of England as a Community Energy Champion at the Community Energy Awards, Energy Champion at the Energy Institute Awards and Environmental Champion at the Devon Environmental Business Initiative Awards. From climbing wind turbines to supporting her village in going Carbon Zero, to hosting Facebook Live sessions and decorating her local green area in Exeter with mini windmills, her aim is to continuously raise awareness of climate change. She established the UK’s first grid consortium and grid sharing agreements for communities, and in 2018 was awarded an MBE for services to community energy.

Jennifer Chika Okafor

Lawyer, UK/Nigeria

Lawyers who are changing the world

Jennifer Chika Okafor is a solicitor who regularly offers her services free of charge to people within the African community. She has taken on many institutions and individuals and won on a paid or pro bono basis. Jenny is a Women’s rights advocate and activist. She is the founder of the Nigerian Women in Diaspora Leadership Forum (NWDLF), a group which helps women realise and utilise their leadership potential. Jenny is currently concentrating on women and girls rights issues with the aim of assisting them in finding their places in society early in life without fear and minimum difficulties. Under her leadership, the NWDLF has spearheaded the fight against child marriages in Nigeria.

Carroll Muffett

President and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, Washington D.C. (USA)

Lawyers who are changing the world

A recognised expert on the international law of wildlife and timber trade, Carroll Muffett is an outspoken advocate for the environment and has authored numerous articles and textbook chapters on national and international environmental policy and on the trade and environment debate. CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit organisation that uses the power of law to protect the environment, he is a leading voice in holding corporations accountable for climate change.

Sophie Marjanac

Company and financial/climate damage lawyer, London (UK)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Passionate about the power of the law to protect people and the environment, Sophie Marjanac is project lead, Climate Accountability, for ClientEarth and was previously a senior lawyer in Australia where she specialised in environmental and planning law. She has also worked in the remote Torres Strait region, where she undertook litigation, negotiation and advocacy on behalf of Indigenous Australian landowners. At ClientEarth, she works on novel climate litigation strategies around the world with a particular focus on the risks of climate change to private actors and the intersection of environmental and corporate law.

Roda Verheyen

Environmental lawyer, Hamburg (Germany)

Lawyers who are changing the world

Specialising in environmental and international law, Roda Verheyen is a champion of climate justice in Germany. In 2002, she co-founded the Climate Justice Programme to support climate-related litigation worldwide. In 2017, she represented a Peruvian farmer and mountain guide Saul Luciano Lliuya in an appeal to the high regional court of Hamm against energy giant RWE (they won). In order to hold authorities accountable for climate change, she seeks compensation or stronger climate action through the courts and currently represents ten families in a lawsuit against EU institutions, dubbed the People’s Climate Case. She will argue in the European General Court that the EU must adopt a more ambitious 2030 climate target to defend their human rights – drawing on the UN assessment of the science.

Congratulations to the 2019 cohort – they are absolutely amazing and inspiring!

Making Work, Work

This post was originally published on 11 April 2018 and updated on 16 April 2020. 

Good environmental practice is a big part of our ethos at Obelisk Support. We actively promote sustainability in the office and are always looking for ways to reduce our waste and energy consumption. As many of our staff and consultants work remotely and flexibly, these sustainability guidelines apply to home offices too. Small actions go a long way, and we can all do a little more to ensure we only consume the energy and resources we need. As April is Earth Month, here are some of our top tips for simple sustainable practices at work, wherever that may be.

#1 Benchmark energy use

All too often the benchmarking stage is overlooked by organisations when looking to make improvements to sustainability but it is an important part of the process – and individuals can also benefit from first taking stock of their starting position before diving in to making changes.

Essentially benchmarking means fully understanding how your building, office or home operates and where the most effective savings can be made. By completing a benchmarking exercise at the outset you can assess performance trends, set targets, ensure you are working to comply with any legislative or regulatory requirements and help identify which actions are most effective and where the greatest savings can be made.

Look at (and record) your current energy usage (including electricity, heating, water etc) and current suppliers/ cost as well as considering any materials you use. Commercial benchmarking usually includes analysis of raw-material consumption but for these purposes that is probably a step too far. If you are working from home, try this energy use calculator as a starting point.

#2 Switch to green/clean suppliers

Switching to green energy providers does not automatically mean a rise in bills and it is worth checking every year or two that you are on the most appropriate and efficient tariffs. 

Most energy providers include green energy tariffs, supplying energy that is up to 100% renewable from a variety of sources including wind farms and solar panels. Providers can have their tariffs checked and audited by Ofgem, the UK gas and electricity regulator, officially certifying the service as green by their Green Energy Certification Scheme accreditation.

Whether you decide to switch or not, make sure that you’ve signed up to paperless billing for all suppliers.

#3 Re-consider paper use, stationery and printing

Think about your paper use. Eliminate paper where possible, which has the dual effect of reducing consumption as well as freeing up physical space that you would have used for storing files. If you need to make notes, try using the note function on your phone, tablet or computer. 

If you need to circulate information such as presentations, try slideshare.com. Include a line at the bottom of emails encouraging people not to print out messages unnecessarily. When you absolutely need to print, double check that you’re not wasting paper by printing out additional pages with just a URL or footer.

Set your printer to print double-sided and in black and white by default to save on both paper and ink. Many printers also allow you to print in draft mode, printing text more lightly with less ink but still enough to be able to read. Reducing print margins will help you print using less paper. You can also purchase recycled toner and ink along with your recycled paper! And when you’re done with your ink cartridges, recycle them at your local recycling centre.

It goes without saying that any paper you do use should be recycled once you’ve finished with it – and that you have enough recycling bins in your workspace to stop people using the conventional bin (particularly in the home office). Paper can be recycled up to 5 times, and the manufacturing of recycled paper uses less energy, water, and produces lower carbon emissions than non-recycled paper. You should also only buy recycled paper. The quality now matches the print performance of non-recycled paper. 

You can also ‘recycle’ paper yourself in the office – e.g. using shredded paper for package padding, relabelling and reusing boxes/envelopes, and using the backs of non-confidential paper for making notes, etc. If you need to order new envelopes and packing materials, avoid plastic envelopes and tapes in favour of paper options – you can even get paper tapes pre-printed with your logo.

Take it a step further and switch to recycled toilet paper in the office bathrooms, or consider a subscription to toilet paper suppliers such as Who Gives a Crap, who don’t use any plastic in their wrapping or boxes, use bamboo for the ‘paper’ which is more sustainable as well as give away part of their profits to building toilets.

#4 Heat and light

Unnecessary electronic lighting is a big problem in many offices, so try to pay a little more attention to ensure lights are not left on when they are not needed on bright days. You may need to reconsider the office layout if lights are having to be used during daylight hours due blinds being closed to combat screen glare. Use LED torch/desk lights for close document reading, rather than turning on multiple room-filling ceiling lights.

Make sure that your windows are as energy efficient as possible – consider double or even triple glazing if appropriate as well as window treatments which prevent heat escaping in the winter. Look into whether you can even use your windows to generate heat by absorbing sunlight and recirculating.

Think about the temperature of your workspace/office and whether there are energy efficient ways to retain an ambient temperature without energy zapping inefficient ancient heating or air-con systems.

Particularly if you work from home, investigate heating your individual workspace rather than relying on your central heating to warm the whole house. You can now get energy efficient individual heaters which are not the electricity drain like old fan heaters were.

# 5 Energy usage

In the office, it is easier to get into the habit of shutting down computers and laptops before we go home for the day. When working at home, it is more tempting to leave them running as we don’t actually leave them behind – besides, we might take a look at something later, right? Switching off when the work is done will also help you manage your time and separate work and home activity, so it’s worth doing for all round well-being.

We don’t need all of our electrical devices to perform at top capacity all of the time, so eco modes, where they exist, should be set wherever possible. Most of us are probably guilty of not even checking what kind of power saving settings exist on our smartphones as we are so used to being constantly connected, so it’s worth spending a couple of minutes adjusting screen brightness and sleep/overnight modes to conserve a little more energy.

Smart outlets are a good idea for those who often forget to switch off appliances (guilty as charged). Smart outlets allow you to control your plugs remotely, allowing you to switch them off, put on standby and monitor usage throughout your home or office. Best of all, they are relatively affordable per unit and are easy to incorporate into your existing outlets – just plug them in and away you go.

Consider using motion-sensors in lesser used spaces, such as meeting rooms and toilets/bathrooms. We’ve also found that installing them in your home work space encourages you to stand up regularly to put the lights back on!

#6 Use your space effectively

Think about the space that you need to work in and whether you can use it more efficiently. If you manage to reduce paper, do you need as many storage shelves? Is there a better layout which allows people to work at a decent distance from each other (for concentration as well as current virus concerns) but uses less square footage? 

On a larger scale – can you combine work spaces with other people or businesses? Can you and your partner easily work in the same room to reduce heating and lighting costs? Can you combine renting office space with businesses that work alternating hours, so you can share kitchens and bathrooms, for example.

#7 Clean air / reduce indoor pollution

Speaking of viruses, one of the things that people will be surely giving more thought to when we return to any kind of office based work is air circulation. Even prior to this current pandemic, in 2016 Dr. Joseph Allen carried out a Harvard study that found the air we breathe in the office has a profound impact on our ability to work well. The research shows that higher levels of CO2 and VOCs in the air led to lower cognitive scores.

If you work from home, you can more easily ensure that your work space has adequate ventilation and fresh air. In the late 1980s Dr. B. C. Wolverton led a study at NASA about the use of indoor plants to purify air and it is still considered to be the most comprehensive research (it was aimed at space stations, but the research is applicable on earth too). The study concluded a number of plants were excellent at purifying the air to remove chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia from our surroundings. 

As for which plants to get, the Florist’s Chrysanthemum and Peace Lily (though not recommended for cat owners) scored highly as well as a variety of indoor palms and the study recommended at least one plant per 100 square feet.

#8 Food and drink

Meals and break times in the office can create a high volume of waste. If you are a caffeine fiend, take a reusable coffee cup to work or better yet, make it at home in a flask so you won’t have to boil the kettle again for your second cup! Ordering food in can present a problem, so it is worth talking to the food supplier to see if they can reduce the amount of packaging that comes with your order. Keep plenty of forks, spoons and cups in the kitchen to avoid people having to use plastic disposable utensils. Provide free (and excellent) tap water instead of buying bottled water. It’s a scam anyway.

#9 Use Sustainability Apps

As well as smart outlets, there are plenty of mobile apps you can use to track your day to day sustainability in the office and for reminders and tips to reduce your consumption, such as Oroeco. Or you can even go a step further and tie your action to broader global goals: The SDGs in Action app has been developed to highlight the UN Sustainable Development Goals – the world’s to-do list to end poverty, reduce inequalities and tackle climate change. The app also enables you to find actions and events near you that you can join to support the goals, create actions you’re planning in your area, and invite others to join.

#10 Take Part in Government and Community Green Schemes

In the office, as a freelance or remote worker, and as an individual, you can take part in green schemes such as the government’s Cycle to Work Scheme and plastic bottle deposit scheme. The Green Deal can also help you make energy saving improvements to your home or business premises. It is also worth finding out about environmental schemes being run by your local community and how you and your company can get involved.