The Legal Sustainability Alliance: making organisations environmentally sustainable

Jeff TwentymanJeff Twentyman, partner at Slaughter and May and chair of the Legal Sustainability Alliance, muses on a moral conundrum.

After the storm Emma and the ‘beast from the east’ it is a relief that the weather has not only defaulted to the more usual English mix of ‘damp dull drizzle’ with flashes of brilliant sunshine which carry the promise of spring, but also stopped dominating the headlines and our daily conversation. We can now, perhaps, turn our conversation to the bigger picture: we all know that weather and climate are very different – the one being our local, indeed, national obsession, the other too often left on the ‘global and therefore too difficult to think about’ shelf. I, however, have been talking about the climate fairly passionately for over a decade now in my role as chair of the Legal Sustainability Alliance (LSA). The LSA is a collaborative network open to all UK law firms that supports us, as professionals and managers, to make our organisations more environmentally sustainable.

It has been an interesting and often challenging decade and I am pleased that, as a sector, there have been notable successes – such as an overall carbon emissions reduction of 15 per cent per capita in LSA member firms with the consequent estimated saving of about £130 per employee over that period. The network itself has grown and now has over 140 actively engaged and contributing law firms who benefit from our free resources, be they toolkits and case studies or our bespoke carbon footprinting tool.

So, locally as a UK sector, there are some causes for celebration - but it is by no means all good news. As I reflect on the passing of the first decade of the LSA, another anniversary that marked the closing months of 2017, that of the Union of Concerned Scientist, came to mind. In 1992, this group of some 1,700 of the world's leading scientists (including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences) penned a 'warning to humanity' – to 'curtail environmental destruction' and continued that 'a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided'. Some quarter of century later on 13th November 2017, over 15,000 scientists from across the globe supported a second warning: 'Since 1992…humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in …solving these foreseen environmental challenges and, alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse'.

The issues they highlight include:

  • burning fossil fuels
  • deforestation
  • farming for meat consumption
  • over-population
  • loss of biodiversity
  • ocean acidification and pollution.

To quote from the Second Notice:

'As most political leaders respond to pressure, scientists, media influencers, and lay citizens must insist that their governments take immediate action as a moral imperative to current and future generations of human and other life. With a groundswell of organized grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing. It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviours… Sustainability transitions come about in diverse ways, and all require civil-society pressure and evidence-based advocacy, political leadership, and a solid understanding of policy instruments… To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual.'

This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. it comes increasingly difficult to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognise, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that a change of course is needed.

I am often asked what, as law firms, whose singular purpose is to facilitate our clients’ objectives, can we do to help change the course? We all like to believe we operate a responsible business but should this in fact be viewed through the prism of our clients’ activities, sustainable or otherwise?

I make no apology for this challenge. Nor do I presume to offer a simple answer – we must each answer this for ourselves.

But – one thing is clear: We can help by participating to shift expectations of a sustainable business by doing what we can, participating in the furtherance of sustainability as a mainstream core objective of all businesses. The LSA has been working with its members over the last 10 years to do that, and continues to do so. Membership can make a difference both within our own firms and beyond, across the sector and the wider commercial world.

As the LSA enters its second decade we broaden our focus with new energy devoted to how we can help our members, and indeed all law firms, translate the UN global goals - the 17 sustainable development goals – into meaningful and practical actions that we can implement in our firms. Translating the global to the local is no easy task but, like thinking about the climate, it is one we need to address to be part of this strong new initiative. The LSA website has mapping tools, advice and guidance and we are planning a series of UK wide roundtable discussions with partners that focus on the SDGs. There are plenty of reasons to get your firm involved if you have not already done so. Membership of the LSA is free, open to all UK firms, in-house counsel and law schools.

So, next time you muse on the weather or walk in a brief moment of spring sunshine, can I urge you to join us, think big, think global and take some action to do what we can together to make a difference.

Notes to editors

View the full text of second notice

Find out more on the LSA and details of how to join

About the author

Jeff Twentyman undertakes a broad range of corporate and commercial work for both corporate and private equity clients, advising on acquisitions and disposals, joint ventures, mergers and public takeovers, flotations and equity capital markets and private equity investment. He is head the firm’s Private Equity group.

Jeff is one of Chambers' Top 100 for 2013. He is listed as a leading individual for 'Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability' and for 'Private Equity: Buyouts' in Chambers UK, 2017; for 'Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability' in Chambers Europe, 2016; and for Corporate/M&A in Chambers Global, 2016. He is also listed for 'Private equity: transactions' in The Legal 500, 2016.

Jeff chairs the LSA and is a vocal advocate for sustainability within Slaughter and May, as well as a lifetime member of The Woodland Trust.