Practical ways in-house lawyers can fight the climate crisis

In-house lawyers are key to shaping green initiatives within their organisations. To mark the approach of Pro Bono Week 2022 and COP27, Lawyers for Net Zero and the Chancery Lane Project share practical ways in-house legal teams can effect positive change against the climate crisis
Two women look at the screen with climate related images and a globe on the desk

In-house lawyers and their teams are in a unique position to help ensure their organisation's good intentions are turned into meaningful and rapid climate change action. 

As in-house lawyers work across different business areas and functions, they have a rare, holistic view of the company and access to a wide network of senior leaders. This gives them the ideal platform to have real influence within their organisation.

Assessing risk is an essential part of an in-house lawyers’ role. The climate crisis is the biggest risk that businesses – and society – have ever faced, and in-house lawyers are perfectly placed to highlight the risks and opportunities that net zero presents.

Two organisations helping in-house lawyers to effect positive change within their organisations are Lawyers for Net Zero and The Chancery Lane Project.

Lawyers for Net Zero is a non-profit organisation created with a mission to “support and empower General Counsels [GCs] and their teams to take climate and ESG [environmental, social, and governance] leadership”. The organisation recognises that in-house lawyers are key influencers within organisations and wider society to make business behave greener, in an effort to achieve net zero sooner.

The Chancery Lane Project was formed by in-house lawyer Matthew Gingell, and is a collaborative initiative between legal professionals that creates and freely provides green contractual clauses ready to be inserted into commercial agreements.

Below, we have included three top tips from Lawyers for Net Zero on how to drive forward climate change action. The Chancery Lane Project have shared information on green lease clauses, explaining what they are and how you can use them in your work.

Three practical tips from Lawyers for Net Zero

1. Communicate the legal and regulatory requirements that impact your organisation

As Vincent Brugge, GC of ICL Group and one of Lawyers for Net Zero’s champions, noted: “Sustainability was not part of a GC’s formal education but now legal and compliance play a significant role in tackling these sustainability challenges and educating themselves will be crucial.”

Your role gives you the opportunity to advise the business and senior managers on how the organisation must comply with legislation and use it as an opportunity to show where the company can go further.

In-house lawyers should also speak to others across different industries to share knowledge and experiences which will provide valuable insights into how others are tackling these challenges.

This peer-to-peer process is at the core of Lawyers for Net Zero’s Impact Programme which all their champions undertake.

2. Ensure robust and meaningful governance structures are in place in your organisation

If there aren’t any governance structures, help design and create them. This will embed sustainability and ESG-led thinking and reporting within your organisation.

An important aspect of the governance structure will be defining and incorporating tangible requirements, measurements and targets, and reporting against these to show progress made.

Good governance and accurate reporting will help a company mitigate against claims of greenwashing by creating transparency and a culture of sustainability.

3. Engage your boards and senior leaders

Melissa Darby, corporate counsel at Cummins Inc, and also a Lawyers for Net Zero champion, said: “When your CEO and your board is delivering the climate change message, the tone is set from the top and the business has to align around that.”

In-house lawyers are in a unique position of influence and should engage with your senior management and boards to champion climate change actions and formulate strategy.

This may be relatively easy for you, if senior leaders have already bought in, or you may need to be more persistent and continue championing this agenda.

Find out more

If you’re an in-house lawyer interested in helping to drive the climate transition in your organisation, get in touch with Lawyers for Net Zero.

The Chancery Lane Project: green lease clauses

Considering the above tips, one way to implement change is to utilise green lease clauses as provided by the Chancery Lane Project.

A green lease incorporates clauses for managing and improving the environmental performance of a property, which commit owners and occupiers to minimising the property’s environmental impact.

Such clauses typically address energy efficiency, data sharing on utilities consumption and the use of sustainable materials for repairs and alterations.

While properties today may be built or, increasingly, retrofitted to achieve a high sustainability rating – such as a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) ‘Outstanding’ or Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ‘A’ rating – these are of little use if owners and occupiers operate the property inefficiently.

To achieve a property’s green potential – and to enjoy the associated benefits of lower running costs, a more comfortable working or living environment and a more marketable asset – parties to a lease should include green obligations, to ensure that their building is used sustainably.

A sustainable starting point

The Chancery Lane Project (TCLP) publishes and maintains a suite of freely available green lease clauses aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement, peer-reviewed by experts and which represent a best practice starting point for climate-conscious drafting.

These clauses can be adapted for lease agreements according to the parties’ capabilities and sustainability targets. The climate ambition of these provisions can then be scaled up over time, in line with that of the property’s owners or occupiers.

TCLP’s climate clauses for commercial leases are summarised below:

  • Aatmay's clause – enables owners and occupiers to reduce unnecessary waste and purchase of new products by prompting them to follow circular economy principles in repair and alterations to leased properties
  • Hannah's clause – allows owners to include the costs of improving the environmental performance of leased buildings in the service charge costs (where such works are not otherwise required by statute)
  • Lotta's clause – a low barrier to entry clause that delivers emissions reductions for owners and occupiers by ensuring that electricity supplied to a leasehold property is from renewable sources
  • Oisin's clause – building on Lotta’s clause, this provides a series of stepped options for commercial leases that help corporate owners and occupiers generate additional 'green' electrons for the electricity grid where their leasehold property is located
  • Rosie's clause – requires the owner to act reasonably and not delay consent if an occupier proposes alterations that will improve the environmental performance of the premises, the building, or the wider development

For the full set of TCLP’s built environment resources (including a downloadable PDF linking to all relevant clauses and topical podcast episodes) visit its built environment page.

Get involved: the climate crisis is real – what can lawyers do?

This question is a key theme of Pro Bono Week 2022.

To find out more, join the Chancery Lane Project's event on Tuesday 8 November, or find the right pro bono opportunity for you.

Read more about Pro Bono Week