A focus on... our route to Net Zero
Partner Nadia Kalic and Senior Procurement Manager Louise Zabbar talk to alumna Asna Khan about the firm’s ambitious journey towards becoming Net Zero and what it means for our people, our clients and our suppliers.
Asna: What have we been doing to better understand our carbon footprint?
Louise: Being conscious of our environmental impact has long been a priority for Clifford Chance and we have set specific goals for reducing our CO2 emissions, waste and energy consumption for many years. Our newly created Environment Board, aligned to our Responsible Business Board, has also developed a strategy for realising our ultimate goal: achieving Net Zero. That strategy includes working with thirdparty experts Carbon Intelligence to establish science-based targets that will help us manage our emissions in line with climate science. An important part of our journey is understanding that we don’t operate in isolation; we need to look at our impact broadly, including in terms of our supply chain and the impact our business has through our work with clients and other stakeholders.
Asna: What steps have we taken this year?
Louise: In 2020, we partnered with partnered with EcoVadis, the ‘world’s most trusted provider’ of business sustainability ratings, to monitor both our own and our suppliers’ sustainability performance against a globally recognised methodology aligned to the United Nations Global Compact, International Labour Organisation, Global Reporting Initiative and ISO2600. In doing so, we became the first global law firm to roll out our own sustainable procurement programme using that platform.
The work we’re doing as part of our programme is enabling us to work closely with our suppliers to help them to reduce their environmental and social impacts while allowing us to move closer to our ambition of becoming Net Zero. As well as monitoring environmental factors such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, waste and energy consumption, we’re also independently assessing our suppliers against other criteria, including labour and human rights, ethical practices and controls, and ensuring we’re working with suppliers that support our own business objectives and strategy. You can read more about the work we’re doing with EcoVadis in our recent blog article.
Asna: How important is the role of our supply chain in this whole picture?
Louise: Very. Most of our emissions sit within what’s called Scope 3, which includes the goods and services we use to run our firm, from our technology through to our recruitment and knowledge management services, and our business travel, including the modes of transport we use to support the delivery of services to our clients. As a result, sustainability is a key pillar of our supplier management programme.
To support the launch of our sustainable procurement programme’s aspirations, we held an event for suppliers in April this year, at which we also held a series of focus groups to set out what truly matters to us as a firm and how we can work ollaboratively with our suppliers to achieve our aspirations. We need to understand the processes and controls all of our suppliers have in place that ultimately could impact us as an organisation and ensure those suppliers are also aware of how their own procurement can affect their emissions performance.
Asna: What other initiatives and activities will help us on the route to net zero?
Louise: We have already done a huge amount to reduce our carbon impact. For example, in 2020 we reduced our Scope 1 and 2 emissions per full-time employee by 28.42%. We’re now actively looking at investing in re-newable energy and energy efficiency, moving away from natural gases and making smarter choices when it comes to the offices in which we work. But there is clearly more we can do, with the pandemic and a move to a more flexible working environment helping us see opportunities to reduce our business travel, to challenge our assumptions around how we run our offices and catering services, how we use precious resources like clean water and how we deal with waste.
Asna: How important are these issues for our clients?
Nadia: It’s almost impossible to have conversations with our clients that don’t involve some form of discussion around ESG issues. Not only is ESG seen as a risk and increasingly the subject of regulation and litigation, it’s also an opportunity for many clients and, as a result, it’s at the top of the agenda in most organisations. In our Corporate practice, we are doing ESG work both on the advisory and the transactional side. Similarly, in our Global Financial Markets practice, there is a huge amount of work happening in relation to green financing, bonds and derivatives – and in our Litigation and Dispute Resolution practice, we are seeing an increase in climate change and ESG-focused activism and litigation. Understanding how to achieve a ‘just transition’ to a zero carbon world, one which protects the rights of the poorest workers and communities, and who will pay for it, will be a key issue for us to consider when advising clients across all practice groups. Internally, we have created the Energy Transition Initiative (ETI), which is designed to help us talk to clients about the energy and infrastructure transition to a low carbon/no carbon future. It helps us focus our efforts and share knowledge throughout the firm so we can always have energy transition on the agenda when talking to clients. The ETI is a key component of our efforts focused on the ‘E’ (environment) in ESG.
Asna: What do clients expect from us in terms of ESG?
Nadia: As is the case with our people, clients are expecting us to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to climate change. They don’t want law firms advising them on how to achieve Net zero if they aren’t moving towards the same goal themselves. Our new climate change policy, is the kind of initiative that shows we are serious about net zero and it’s vital that clients can see that.
Asna: How are we working with clients to influence change among them and how are we helping them become more environmentally conscious?
Nadia: The work we are doing is ultimately about assisting our clients to achieve their own net zero objectives. We’re advising all sorts of businesses on how they should approach ESG factors. And we are driving change by being proactive in our discussions with clients, helping them devise and implement net zero strategies and working with them on their reporting and disclosure frameworks.
Asna: How can we engage in collective action to address the urgency of climate change?
Nadia: We are founding members of the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance, which is committed to accelerating the transition to Net Zero carbon by 2050. It’s a great example of where, as a firm, we are looking to participate in and drive change within our own profession. When I talk to colleagues across the firm, it’s clear to me we’re aligned in our Net Zero ambition. We do some fantastic work and should be proud of the market-leading position we are taking on these issues. I feel as though I’m working with people who are like minded and genuinely doing these things because they care, not because it’s what the market expects, and that reinforces that sense of what we can achieve when we work together. The more we can help establish new standards and help bring innovative solutions to market – working with our clients and other stakeholder groups – then the greater the difference we will make.