How we’re embracing ESG and sustainability as part of our strategy for success

David Hunter, member of our Climate Change Working Group, discusses how Bates Wells has incorporated environmental, social and governance principles into how it's doing business.

The obvious but essential point to make is that environmental, social and governance (ESG), sustainability and success are connected.

We need our stakeholders and the natural world, and they need us. Therefore, we must commit to doing business with a long-term focus.

What is ESG and why is it important that businesses embrace it?

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) was launched in 2006 under the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment to make the case that ‘who cares wins’.

It broadly seeks to understand a business’ positive, or negative impact upon our world and its inhabitants, as opposed to viewing it solely as a profit-driven entity.

A commitment to positively impacting society and the environment

Bates Wells became a Certified B Corp in 2015, engaging with environmental, social and governance issues before the ESG acronym was well-known.

B Corps are businesses that commit to making profits whilst having a material positive effect on society and the environment.

This commitment is written into the firm’s partnership agreement and reported against as the core measure of success for the firm, as opposed to profits per equity partner.

Treating our people well

We’ve committed to treating our staff, suppliers, clients and community well.

For example, we’ve:

  • developed flexible and family-friendly employment practices
  • prioritised social enterprise and B Corp providers, and
  • arranged work experience opportunities with local schools

It’s therefore no surprise that many of our working and community relationships, which are the bedrock of our business, have grown stronger as a result.

Our clients recognise that we’re not merely providing another piece of legal advice, but we believe in what they’re doing, want to help them succeed, and therefore run our business in a way that’s less likely to be storing up future problems for us all.

Clients have commended this approach, and we’re attracting more interest than ever from young lawyers and new entrants to the profession.

Engaging with these issues meaningfully is something that unifies senior partners and junior admin staff in something they can all equally benefit from.

Sustainability and the environment

In terms of the environment, we do not interpret sustainability as ‘doing something green’.

We follow the definition of the Brundtland Commission, namely that it means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The IPCC has said we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% in 2030 in order to meet the goal to keep global temperature increases below 1.5°C.

This means making an ongoing effort to make improvements wherever we can.

So far, this has included:

The holy grail: our ‘carbon brainprint’

We’re increasingly turning our attention to being more proactive in deciding which matters and clients we’ll work on and for. This focus is sometimes described as ‘Scope X’, Scope 4, and even our ‘carbon brainprint’.

It recognises that for professional service consultancies, the greatest impact we can have on reducing emissions is supporting clients on their own journeys to net zero – and declining to act for those who refuse to embark on this voyage.

Rather than negatively regarding this as turning away clients, we see it as a positive opportunity to identify and attract more impactful work.

Although it can still feel uncomfortable this early in the transition to confront these challenges head-on, it‘s in our interests to use our skills to support clients in making the necessary shifts we all need to make, as we’re doing it ourselves helping create the legal market, economy and society we wish to be a part of.

What can sometimes still feel a little awkward today will, given the speed things are changing, soon be a signifier of a mature business relationship.

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