At Herbert Smith Freehills, we recognise that everyone has a part to play in balancing our growth as a business with reducing our impact on the environment. We have a responsibility to align our approach to sustainability across all of the offices in our network and our intention is to create – and be part of – a business community that operates in an environmentally sustainable, economically feasible, and socially responsible way. It is also equally important to ensure our people are proud to work for a business which places environmental sustainability at its heart.
In 2016, we launched our Global Environmental Sustainability strategy which drives our approach to reducing our environmental impact, while we use our legal expertise in support of environmental NGOs and charities on a pro bono basis.
To ensure that our interactions with the environment are carefully managed and that we minimise and mitigate any negative impacts from our activities, we established some challenging global goals for 2020 (see figure 1). I found leading this journey quite interesting, mainly due to its multi-faceted nature. Senior management and stakeholder engagement, behaviour change, data collection and analysis, as well as our multi-jurisdictional presence, were only a few of the elements or challenges that I had to take into consideration. There will always be a requirement for some business travel, which is one of the biggest contributors to many organisations’ carbon footprint. As many people know, carbon offsetting is one option open to organisations, but it does not always lead to behaviour change and pro-environmental attitudes. However, there are some wonderful projects which help organisations focus on sustainable development, with economic, social, and environmental benefits. It was looking at these which led me to a whole new world of opportunities to give back to society.
Our Gold Standard-certified carbon-offset project is installing 1 million biogas digesters and smoke-free cook stoves in low-income households in rural Sichuan, China, providing households with clean, convenient and free biogas for cooking, heating, and lighting.
On the other hand, as energy usage gives rise to most of our global carbon emissions, I am determined to drive the switch to electricity from renewable resources across our network and increase the share of green electricity in our energy mix. Raising awareness, engaging with our people and changing behaviours is a necessary three-step process that can help us improve our environmental performance. A prime example is the Green Team in the Hong Kong office, which consists of environmental enthusiasts who drive the sustainability agenda. Their initiative has had a snowball effect with growing numbers of people coming forward and taking action. It is equally important to raise awareness externally. The firm is a regular contributor to thought leadership on environmental themes. Our lawyers commentate and offer advice across topics such as air quality, corporate governance responsibilities regarding environmental impacts, and environmental class actions. We bring our clients and contacts together for influential seminars. Some of our senior lawyers are visiting university lecturers on matters including energy regulation and climate change.
My ambition for a better environment goes beyond our operations and offices. I believe it is important to consider the environmental impact of our supply chain and work with suppliers to ensure we do everything feasible to minimise it. Our global Responsible Procurement Policy addresses potential environmental risks in the purchasing process and encourages pro-environmental behaviour. We also engage with our suppliers to appraise the sustainability of goods and services received.
Environmental law practice
Our global environmental team acts in the environmental aspects of corporate transactions in all sectors, spanning energy, infrastructure, mining, urban development and urban regeneration, as well as in remediation of contamination as part of the redevelopment of brownfield land. We also advise clients on their obligations to comply with environmental law, requirements for transparency and permits, and the potential for liability as a result of non-compliance.
Many of the projects in which we are involved have intrinsic positive environmental benefits, such as biomass, sustainable feedstock, tidal energy power generation, and solar and wind projects. We have a leading financing practice in the energy sector, particularly in renewable energy, where we have advised on a number of ground-breaking project financings across the globe.
We take plastic pollution seriously, through our operations and commercial work. A prime example is our work with Sky, where a cross-practice team in London advised on the structuring of the flagship Sky Ocean Ventures fund and on Sky’s first two downstream investments in social enterprises tackling the global ocean plastics crisis. We have also collaborated with clients and charities to raise awareness of plastic pollution by cleaning beaches, like in Hong Kong and Belfast; and the foreshore of the river Thames. We also conducted surveys that will be used for further research and campaign purposes.
Environmental pro bono is an area I am passionate about (see figure 2). Using our expertise in support of communities affected by climate change or projects with positive environmental impact can have a multiplier effect on many levels, from driving change and raising awareness to improving people’s lives on the ground.
Our flagship project in environmental pro bono work is the award-winning Legal Response Initiative (LRI). The LRI provides free legal advice on a rapid-response basis to delegations from less-developed countries and NGOs on negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
In the renewable energy area, we have provided pro bono advice to the government of Sierra Leone regarding a number of solar power projects and the Bumbuna Hydroelectric Plant, designed to raise access to electricity on a national scale. Environmental peacebuilding is a growing area. It integrates natural resource management within conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution, and recovery to build resilience in communities affected by conflict. In particular, we are working with EcoPeace Middle East, a unique organisation that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists with these aims. We have assisted the government of Rwanda in meeting its commitments to environmental sustainability and the SDGs, and increasing levels of recycling by introducing an electronic waste facility to collect, recycle, and dispose of computers and other electronic items.
Setting an environmental strategy has never been more relevant and urgent, regardless of the size of the business and the volume of the impact. Figure 3 is a simple guide to how to set up the business’s environmental strategy. I am more than happy to offer my help and advice (Georgios.Zampas@hsf.com). Together we can make a difference.