Friday, February 22, 2013

Sustainability At Law

DWF, the business law firm, hosted a meeting on behalf of GACSO, the Global Association of Corporate Sustainability Officers in Manchester yesterday. Here’s what I learnt.

Ty Jones, Head of Value and Sustainability opened by explaining how sustainability affects a legal practice.

Sustainability is now part of the business plan and is far more than window dressing. It’s a platform for delivering outstanding results and a clear differentiator when every legal practice is trying to promote itself as a deliverer of excellence. The drive to sustainability is led by stakeholder expectations. No client wants to be associated with a supplier with a bad reputation, and vice versa. The question is whether the professional firm is a value limiter or a value creator. The value limiter concentrates on business as usual to the exclusion of all else. The value creator is a thought leader, a strategic thinker and will challenge clients. For credibility, there must come a point where the firm will refuse to do business with clients that are recklessly unsustainable. Even so, the firm will not hold clients to standards that it cannot meet itself. The firm as value creator will add value by challenging clients and thus will limit its clients to the best clients. Equally it will attract and retain the best professional partners to work in the firm.
Until two years ago DWF had no Environmental Management System (EMS). Now it has ISO 14001, as expected by its clients. Clients putting work out to tender are going far beyond asking whether there is an environmental policy. Now they ask for details of the EMS and want to know how it can add value to their own sustainability objectives. Some clients can have rigorous sustainability standards and yet demand less than sustainable service from their lawyers. An example is insisting on face-to-face meetings at remote locations, when the same result could be achieved with a conference call .
It’s important to influence the supply chain as far as a relatively small organisation such as DWF can. The firm has therefore established structured supply partnerships including benchmarks, quarterly reviews and regular discussions.
Employee engagement is important from the moment of induction into the firm. Many people don’t realise that sustainability goes far wider than environmental issues. They also don’t realise that actions with a sustainability consequence – use of materials, use of energy, disposal of waste – also have a financial consequence. Smart use of technology, not just using technology in an unplanned way, can make people’s working lives more sustainable. The recent acquisition of Cobbetts by DWF, involving the absorption of 500 people into existing premises, demonstrated exactly how this can work.

Sustainability is firmly embedded in the DWF business plan.

Later in the session Lynne Cook of DWF spoke about sustainability and real estate and Alan Knight of BITC explained the background and objectives of GACSO. More on this in a later blog.