Environmental issues have rocketed to the forefront of business and political leaders minds in recent months, and law firms have been in the thick of the action. Lawyers from the UKs leading firms have been heavily involved in environmental law issues, from establishing the EUs energy trading system to advising on the environmental aspects of M&A deals between utilities or commodities companies.
In this piece Lawyer2B turns the spotlight back on the law firms themselves in the first analysis of what firms are doing about the waste they generate. Much in the same way that clients are now demanding diversity statistics from their law firms, their environmental policies are becoming an increasingly important box that firms must tick if they hope to win big-ticket mandates.
Simmons & Simmons started a look at me war last November when it announced it would go carbon-neutral. An environmental audit found that the firm needed to pay 114,000 to offset its carbon footprint, prompting it to pledge to cut carbon emissions by 7.5 per cent by April 2007.
But that upset SJ Berwin, which claims it has been carbon-neutral since 2001 and has paid for the planting of some 15,000 trees in the UK to offset its UK offices carbon emissions.
Since then law firms have been falling over themselves to proclaim their environmental credentials and carbon neutrality. Or, in the case of a few City firms, shouting from the rooftops, now that it is fashionable to do so, about things they have already been doing.
For too long the commercial price of being green has outweighed the social responsibility for many firms. At somewhere between 7 and 10 to buy an offset credit per tonne of carbon, firms with large workforces that do lots of air travel have been reluctant to get on board. Depending on which offsetting company you use, a return flight to New York can cost 10 per person to offset the emissions, while a return to Hong Kong can cost 25 per person. Multiply that by the number of partners, associates and support staff flying between offices, and by how regularly some rainmakers travel, and you rack up quite a substantial bill rather quickly.
Eversheds is one of the few firms to have appointed an environmental manager to deal specifically with this issue for the firm. My position is fairly unique within law firms, says Claire Shepherd, who holds the post. I think it will become an increasingly important function.
While firms remain keen to jump on the carbon-neutral bandwagon, Shepherd is cautious about the concept. Carbon neutrality is a tough subject, she says. The first and foremost consideration is reduction. Being carbon-neutral should not just be about offsetting carbon outlay, but about reducing it in the first place.
Of the magic circle, Linklaters is by far the most advanced down the path of environmental awareness, having commissioned an environmental impact audit in 2002 to look at electricity usage and waste and recycling programmes. The outcome was the Linklaters Environmental Policy, which was signed off by outgoing managing partner Tony Angel.
The policy has seen Linklaters tender the electricity supply for its Silk Street headquarters and the firm pays extra to have part of its electricity supplied by renewable sources, such as wind or water. The firm also stipulated that it would not accept power supplied by a nuclear reactor. The venture with E.ON will see Linklaters save some 22,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions during the deals two-year lifespan. If the firm had chosen to pay to offset those emissions, it would have cost some 165,000. And now that the firm has made the leap to a part-renewable energy supply, staff will undoubtedly demand that the programme be extended.
We paid an absolute premium to do this, says Linklaters head of premises and facilities Bob Jones. It was a conscious decision by the firm to take renewable-supplied electricity. The firm declines to put a figure on the cost, but it is understood to run to tens of thousands of pounds. Indeed, Linklaters has been a shining beacon to other firms, with the example being led by Jones and engineering manager Phil Rulton.
The pair has overseen the implementation of the environmental policy that has resulted in improved building management and lighting control systems, which automatically adjust or switch off lights and shut down air-conditioning in unused areas.
As part of its electricity supply, Linklaters has tapped E.ONs Citigen combined heat and power (CHP) plant in the City the only law firm to do so. The Citigen project at Smithfield Market produces electricity for City clients. As a byproduct it produces heat, which during the winter is used for heating systems, and in the summer it produces chilled water for use in air-conditioning systems.
For every 1kw from the CHP plant it is half the amount of emissions [produced by a regular power source]. The firm made a commitment to this project and weve been running with it since 2002, said Rulton.
Recycling is now a way of life for most City firms. So much so that it would be a rare exception to find a firm that does not recycle. Efforts to increase videoconferencing, promote rail rather than air travel, reduce the printing of emails and increase electronic archiving technology are all starting to become commonplace among the leading commercial firms.
Switching to biodegradable or organic cleaning products, purchasing locally produced and organic food for the office cafeteria, supplying Fairtrade coffee and recyclable cups, and even fining staff for leaving lights or computer monitors on, are all options being considered by firms to improve their environmental friendliness.
Some go further than just the now common paper recycling such as Linklaters, which is about to embark upon a compost programme for its food waste, while others are focused more on minimising usage and wastage in the first place.
It costs the firm more to have our recycling and composting programmes in place, says Linklaters Jones, revealing that his firm sends some seven tonnes of packing waste to be recycled each week. But Linklaters as a firm feels strongly that this needs to be done, and that outweighs any cost impact.
Addleshaw Goddard has preprogrammed all of its photocopiers to automatically double-side everything that is photocopied, halving its use of paper, while it has also saved an estimated 150,000 bottles of water a year by revamping its meeting room stock system. For the longer term, the firm is planning to restructure its seven environmental focus groups across the three offices to feed directly to the senior management committee.
Lovells head of corporate responsibility and dispute resolution partner Neil Fagan last year commissioned an internal environmental review to evaluate waste and energy use. Reducing our environmental impact has been made a priority within our corporate responsibility programme over the next year. Were also developing an internal campaign to promote personal as well as corporate responsibility in this area, says Fagan.
Herbert Smith is another firm that has moved environmental responsibility higher up the agenda. People feel its about time to take these issues seriously. Its not going away. You can either do something innovative now or wait for legislation to tell you what to do, says corporate social responsibility (CSR) manager Richard Brophy. Weve chosen to act now.
Herbert Smith is one of many firms attempting to measure its carbon footprint. This is clearly something important to our employees. Graduates in particular say that they want to work for an organisation that takes environmental issues seriously, says Brophy. Youd be surprised how quickly things do change when people are aware of a wider movement.
Linklaters has instigated a system to offset the carbon footprint for its annual partner retreats. Currently, whenever there is a partner retreat or similar mass gathering of partners or staff, details such as where attendees are coming from and how long the retreat will last are given to Climate Care, which calculates the total tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and produces a cost figure for the firm to pay.
Cimate Care, one of many carbon offsetting enterprises marketing renewable energy projects to the commercial community, puts the money it makes from fees, such as those Linklaters pays, towards its various offsetting projects in the developing world. Other firms use the Carbon Trust or the CarbonNeutral Company.
Were continuing to look in detail at this, says Rulton, emphasising that the firm is keen to expand its offsetting from just partner retreats to all air travel. Theres a certain amount of carbon that you cant offset things like waste and bus and taxi travel but were looking into various ideas and ways to reduce it, rather than offset it. Rather than just pay out, wed prefer to reduce and reuse our waste where possible.
The age of a firms buildings can have a large bearing on the size of a firms environmental impact. Clifford Chances Canary Wharf building has won awards for its energy efficiency and design, while Norton Rose, which is due to move into a new building south of the river soon, does not yet know what change it faces.
Norton Roses environmental committee has been advised by external consultants that the firm should carry out a full environmental audit six months after it has moved into its new London office. Only then will the firm be able to get a clear picture of what the carbon footprint from its office is and how best to minimise it.
New buildings come with advantages. Norton Roses building will have the facilities to recycle all plastics and cans. Motion sensors will turn off lights when they are not needed. Linklaters had to shell out big money to have these bonus features installed, and the third-party recyclers it uses face a weekly struggle to negotiate the cramped loading bay that was not designed with recycling vehicles in mind.
Norton Rose is looking to further offset its emissions by negotiating to move to a green tariff to power the building, while the firm has also set up a cycle to work scheme, whereby the firm will cover up to half of the cost of a new bicycle for each employee, providing that they use it to travel to and from the office.
But most efforts are not just UK-based. Many firms are looking at what they can do for their international offices a problem with no cheap solution. DLA Piper, which is hosting former US Vice-President Al Gore at a climate change seminar at its Sheffield office during February, has launched a sustainability initiative across its international network, encompassing all 62 offices throughout 24 countries.
DLA Piper has set itself strict targets for reducing emissions, targeting energy, waste, air travel and procurement as areas it can cut down. The firms UK offices have already been certified as meeting the ISO 14001 standard for environmental management systems, and it is aiming to achieve worldwide certification during 2007.
The goal of this initiative is to create a culture of sustainability and environmental responsibility across all our offices, says chairman George Mitchell, a former US senator. Were extending our commitment beyond basic environmental compliance in order to significantly reduce, not just offset, our negative impact on the worlds ecosystems.
DLA Piper will also purchase offsetting credits for its global air travel and will actively encourage
the use of rail travel or videoconferencing as an alternative.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is another firm that is taking a global approach to the problem, electing to purchase offsetting credits for emissions and working towards reducing those emissions.
The firm is working with the CarbonNeutral Company to audit its emissions across its global network and on ways to reduce that as part of its CSR programme introduced in January 2006.
Freshfields joint senior partner Guy Morton says: Actively taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of doing business is a high priority for us. Its important to our partners, our clients and our employees. We take environmental considerations seriously.
As the worlds awareness of environmental impact grows, so too will the role that commercial organisations are forced to play. Where the clients lead, the professional services organisations are sure to follow. Having genuine green credentials that you can boast about is one more string to a firms bow in the neverending war to impress and win clients. And this time it is not just in the firms own interests.