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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Responsible Business Insights

Working towards a sustainable future

The environmental impact of the Covid-19 lockdown

The Covid-19 lockdown has had a significant impact on the way that we operate, highlighting positive changes we can all make in future.

Regional Chief Operating Officer for Asia Pacific Alan Corr and Amsterdam Partner Liesbeth Buiter discuss the positive practices lockdown has uncovered for them.

There has been a lot of talk about the environmental impact of the Covid-19 lockdown. Has this proven to be the case in your work at Clifford Chance?

Alan Corr: The last few months have been like nothing I’ve experienced before. The biggest environmental change in my work is the amount of flying that I’m doing. Before, I would usually travel at least two or three times a month to one of our offices in APAC. However, since the end of January, I haven’t been on a single work trip and have done most of my meetings over via video conferences - it seems that most of my colleagues in the region are the same.

With fewer people in the offices, and for months many offices were empty, we’ve seen a significant reduction in the use of electricity across the network – although we are looking into how that is offset by people’s use of power while working from home.

Liesbeth Buiter: Lockdown has certainly reduced my car and plane travel. In Amsterdam, we were encouraged to work remotely. While not every meeting can be held as a video conference, I will now think twice before hopping on a flight to London or to one of our other offices for only a few hours. Not only has the use of video conferencing helped to reduce our carbon footprints, it’s strangely brought us closer to our clients. They are now able to see us on camera, where previously they might have just spoken to us over the phone.

How have our regional and firm-wide environmental and sustainability priorities changed over the past six months? And how does that compare to pre-lockdown?

Alan: We remain committed to delivering an outstanding client experience and maintaining the health and wellbeing of our people, but we are now more dedicated to ensuring that our business priorities have environmental and sustainable outcomes. As most of our office space has been empty for the last six months, we are plan to trial a flexible and agile working policy that brings about a better work/life balance, eases health concerns and reimagines how we might use our office space in the future.

Liesbeth: Through discussions with colleagues, we are looking at how best to use the real estate to deliver positive environmental and sustainable outcomes. In addition to taking all appropriate health and safety measures and reducing the use of conference facilities and hotels, it’s important to consider the environmental and social aspects of existing assets and how they can be optimised. This is essential as many of our young people will choose to work from the office as either their home working setup is inadequate, or they are still in the early stages of their career and need guidance from more experienced members of staff.

Greater agile and remote working will have significant benefits. What are some of the other positive practices that lockdown has uncovered and what do you think some of the obstacles are to enforce these changes?

Alan: The fact that some of our colleagues in Asia went back to their offices before being sent home again, and then coming back in again, has allowed us to take note of the positive practices and the challenges of maintaining them. In Singapore, where our team is still working remotely, we have allowed some colleagues to enter the building to clear their desks as part of a firm-wide ‘clear desk’ policy to minimise the potential spread of Covid-19 and reduce the risk associated with client confidentiality. I was incredibly surprised at how positively people have responded to this request. We have had a similar experience in HK. A big part of having a clear desk policy is the reduced use of paper. While it’s no secret that the legal industry has an addiction to paper and that old habits die hard, we have seen a dramatic reduction in paper use across the network.

Liesbeth: I agree, paper is definitely one of our biggest challenges in terms of changing the way we work. While working from home, I wasn’t able to print and was dependent on using the technology available to me. As I’m now back in the office, I feel a strong urge to print but am committed to using less paper and not slipping into bad habits. 

What will help drive the reduced use of paper in the future?

Alan: We have a longstanding ambition to reduce paper use, which we are even more committed to encouraging now. We are also looking into reducing the number of personal printers across the network, as studies show that using a communal printer reduces the amount paper use and has added health & collaboration benefits. Additionally, where some colleagues may be more reluctant to change their ways of working, there is a real opportunity to work closely with our younger colleagues who are more digitally minded to help achieve our objectives.

To what extent are clients talking about their environmental impact and changes caused by lockdown? Is this a topic that we are speaking to them about?

Liesbeth: Definitely, we’ve seen a lot of interest from clients who want to get their businesses up and running again and to do so in an environmentally friendly way. We are advising clients on investing in real assets that have pre-existing green certificates and are sustainable, so that they comply with both existing and future regulations, without having to invest further down the line.

How important is it for you that we, as a firm, act in a responsible way and stand out from amongst our peers?

Alan: As a leading international firm, we have an opportunity to lead from the front and share best practice from around our network with our clients and other stakeholders for the benefit of the wider society. We are using our experiences from APAC to benefit our clients and other stakeholders in the legal and business sectors.

Liesbeth: It’s incredibly important that we act responsibly and actively promote positive change. In addition to the reputational benefits, clients are moving towards greater sustainability and we have to go with them. When doing transactions in this space and things are moving quickly, clients want lawyers who believe in these issues and are able to provide them with information on the latest developments. 

2020 Responsible Business Report

As we try to build a better, more sustainable future, it is the fundamental principles of the law that guide us, as a responsible business: equality and fairness, access to justice, effective regulation and government, and the promotion and protection of human rights.

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