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Webinar report: Leadership, Net Zero and Lawyers

How in-house counsel are helping drive ESG

What’s driving the response to Net Zero in your organisation? What obstacles are preventing you from taking action? And, perhaps most relevantly of all for in-house lawyers, how can you help your organisations deliver on Net Zero?

These questions were put to attendees of a webinar we held in conjunction with Lawyers for Net Zero, the group of in-house counsel, legal professionals and entrepreneurs who share the desire keep a liveable planet for all.

Adam Woodhall, Chief Executive of Lawyers for Net Zero hosted the event. Joining him were two champions of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), Will Morris, Chief Counsel of Rolls Royce, Civil Aerospace and Charlotte Phillips, Legal Advisor at Kingfisher Group.

To the first question, customer demand and reputation were the most common drivers of Net Zero among the audience. Compliance is clearly also a critical factor, however the need to be seen as a leader in sustainability comes across as the overriding motivator.

When asked what’s holding them back from taking action, our audience had no shortage of answers. Time constraints, costs and complexity were common factors, though colleague engagement and incompatibility with existing corporate strategies were also cited.

So to question three: what can we as in-house lawyers do? Again, we saw a great range of suggestions. ‘Be a cheerleader’ summed up many of those that urged in-house lawyers to raise ESG’s profile and drive change. Other responses centred around net zero clauses and drafting green contracts.

It’s a complicated issue and one that affects organisations in different ways. At Kingfisher Group, Charlotte’s focus is on the supply chain. While not involved in negotiating agreements with suppliers, she can ensure that the Kingfisher Group’s sustainability policies are baked into their contracts. For help in drafting net zero-aligned clauses, Charlotte highly recommends the Net Zero Toolkit developed by The Chancery Lane Project.

At Rolls Royce, Will champions, among many other processes, the power of questions. As lawyers, we have the capacity to ask good questions. This is a valuable skill, particularly where an issue is scientific and/or technical (and net zero is both). We can also bring out analytical skills to bear and familiarise ourselves with our organisation’s risk systems. How are we gathering data - and how are we reporting and sharing information?

Guarding against greenwashing 

The term greenwashing describes the misleading of customers and investors about a business’s green credentials. It covers overstating the environmentally friendliness of a product, making meaningless offsetting pledges, ignoring Scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions from the value chain) and such like.

Greenwashing is bad for any business. As Charlotte says, ‘Investors and customers will spot it and punish you. Journalists and activists will humiliate you’. And regulators, of course may fine you, so clearly, this is an issue of direct relevance to in-house lawyers.         

Achieving legitimate net zero

Legitimate net zero is the flipside to greenwashing. This matters because in-house lawyers have an important role to play in defining what is legitimate when it comes to sustainability.

‘Our job I think,’ says Will, ‘is often to challenge and speak up and say, “Well, hang on, that isn't the right thing, it isn't justifiable.” We should leave aside whether or not a course of action is actually legally permitted. Transparency is the key issue.’

Top tips for in-house lawyers championing ESG

To conclude the session, Adam asked both panellists for their two top tips when addressing net zero in their organisations.

Charlotte: Firstly, do your due diligence. Look at your organisation’s statements. What are they aiming to do and who made the decision to do it? This will help you figure out what your role regarding ESG is. Secondly, give yourself a mandate to act and drive the agenda forward.

Will: Build yourself a routine for learning and doing at least one thing every day around your specific piece of net zero. This will help you develop your understanding of the issue. And really get to grips with your organisation’s risk system, so you can align your advice to it.

About Lawyers for Net Zero

Lawyers for Net Zero recognises that there’s a massive, but largely unrecognised, opportunity for in-house lawyers to play a big role in their organisation’s drive to achieve significant and rapid climate action.

The initiative is led by Adam Woodhall, supported by numerous volunteers as they grow the initiative. 
Lawyers for Net Zero is a non-profit. For more information, visit https://www.lawyersfornetzero.com/.

 The full recording of this session can be found here.
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