Sustainability

Thriving today while ensuring you do so in the future, too

Existential environmental and social threats including those triggered by climate change, biodiversity loss and armed conflict are issues about which law firm should care deeply. We seek to advise firms that do and who seek to influence positive change both through their internal practices and their client engagements. Our work with them focuses on helping them determine what is material in and to their businesses, and building effective policies and systems to manage that.

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At the core, sustainability means simply to conduct business today in ways that do not compromise the business’s ability to thrive in the future. Our sustainability advisory services are therefore a subset of our strategy services, framed by the quest for sustainable competitive advantage.

A strategic approach to sustainability has never been more important. We live in an era in which the very fabric of our planet appears to be under unprecedented strain. In boardrooms across the world, the most existential environmental and social issues have shifted from being matters of corporate social responsibility to being of central strategic concern. Law firms too face significant challenges but also unique opportunities in this area. We help law firms navigate sustainability challenges and ESG risks, and also to leverage them to build new revenue streams, mitigate risk and enhance reputation.

ESG Lexicon

 Sustainability and ESG have given rise to a veritable alphabet-soup of new acronyms and terms. As part of our own efforts to influence positive change, we have established and (as best we can) keep updated our complimentary ESG Lexicon. So far, this reference resource already contains over 2,000 such acronyms and terms in an easily searchable format.

We typically use as a framework the seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, together with standards that our clients might select (e.g. ISO 14001, B Corp) to build an approach to sustainability that optimises opportunity and manages risk.

Our sustainability services

Materiality assessment

The first, vital step in developing a strategic response to sustainability/ESG is to determine what is important enough to warrant management (i.e. what is material). We have designed a hierarchy of importance to help clients do this. This framework considers aspects of the firm’s business that are impacted by legal and other requirements that ae binding on the firm, or that support the firm’s strategy in that they are sources of sustainable competitive advantage. Some of the questions involved in assessing materiality include:

  • Which internal and external stakeholders do we need to consult?
  • By what criteria should we assess materiality?
  • With what legal and other requirements are we obliged to comply?
  • Which aspects of the firm affect, or are affected by, sustainability/ESG factors?
  • What data do we need and from what sources can we secure that?
  • Which ESG factors are material enough to warrant active management?

Developing a sustainability policy

A sustainability policy should outline your commitment to practices and standards designed to promote environmentally and socially responsible operations. We advise professional services firms on developing policies that align with their strategies, are action-orientated and are tightly guided by materiality.

Some of the questions that need to be answered in developing the sustainability policy include:

  • To what standards and codes of conduct do we wish to bind ourselves?
  • How does our sustainability policy interface with our stated values and purpose?
  • How must our sustainability policy interface with our key clients’ expectations?
  • How will we reference management of Scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions?
  • What specific goals and objectives will we set for our firm?
  • How will we make our policy relevant to the unique characteristics of each practice?
  • How will we translate intent into action, and results?

Reporting protocols

Reporting one’s performance to one’s stakeholders is integral to the philosophy of sustainability. We advise clients on decisions concerning what they will report, to who, in what format and with what frequency. We pay particular attention to helping our clients avoid accusations of “greenwashing.”

Some of the questions that need to be answered in developing a sustainability reporting protocol include:

  • As a minimum, what are we obliged to report, and to who?
  • What do we voluntarily choose to report, in addition to that, and to how?
  • What standards do we apply in our reporting (e.g. GRI, SBTi)?
  • What format will our sustainability reporting take?
  • How will we avoid and/or deal with accusations of “greenwashing?”

Examples of our sustainability advisory work

Sustainability policy for a leading international firm

Our client was a law firm with a leading presence in several jurisdictions. We worked with the firm’s sustainability committee to develop a policy that met its requirements in terms of its legal and other obligations, the importance of sustainability-related services in its portfolio of client services (the firm is prominent has a sustainable finance that is preeminent in its markets) and its own ethical standards.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy

Our client was a quasi-governmental regulator in the Caribbean region. The city under its jurisdiction was heavily impacted by a recent Category 5 hurricane, and is also vulnerable to sea rise. We worked with a number of prominent business leaders in the city, together with leaders from within the regulator, to develop a strategic framework to rejuvenate economic development in the city, as a pathway to funding development of storm mitigation systems for future hurricanes.

ISO14001 and similar management systems

Before switching to advising law firms on business strategy, Rob Millard headed up what continues to this day to be the preeminent independent environmental consultancy in South Africa. He was one of the first people in the world to be certified to audit ISO 14001 environmental management systems, shortly after the standard was first published in 1996, by BVQI (a division of Bureau Veritas.) His work at that time included systems for mines, manufacturing facilities, major civil engineering projects, precious metal refineries and a range of other large factories – establishments with arguably far greater environmental impact than professional services firms. He remains extremely well versed in the field of environmental management of businesses and well able to advise even the most complex professional service firms on this, especially at a strategic level.