Green Guide - EMEA: Ashurst

Ashurst seeks to embed ESG into all aspects of its international full-service legal practice through developing the skillsets of its lawyers. Global ESG and sustainability partner, Anna-Marie Slot, leads the firm’s global ESG steering committee which aims to tailor the firm’s approach according to regional differences in stakeholder pressures through interaction with the various regional task forces. As part of a reduce and offset ESG strategy, the firm has been certified as carbon neutral by Natural Capital since January 2020 via carbon offsetting. Through its carbon neutrality plan, it seeks to meet a set of sustainability goals by 2023 (from a 2019 base) which includes a 20% reduction in travel-related carbon emissions, a 20% improvement in water, utility and energy usage efficiencies, and a 30% reduction in paper usage. The firm is a member of multiple associations such as the Legal Sustainability Alliance, the Australian Legal Sector Alliance and Net Zero Lawyers Alliance. It also publishes a range of reports, webinars, the ESG Matters @ Ashurst podcast series and thought leadership content on the state of various aspects of ESG in the legal sector and develops training initiatives to upskill staff. Ashurst Aurecon Alliance provides a tailored risk consulting service to its clients to assist them with meeting their sustainability goals. In addition to the firm’s wide-ranging legal advice across jurisdictions on SFDR compliance, Ashurst Advance Digital developed the ESG Ready digital platform to assist clients with SDFR compliance by integrating ESG considerations into their investment procedures.

Germany 

Frankfurt-based Maximilian Uibeleisen, member of the firm’s global resources and infrastructure team and head of the German renewables practice, and associate Simon Groneberg in the energy, resources and infrastructure practice have collaborated on a number of renewable energy projects. Together with other departments in the Frankfurt and Munich offices, they advised Vulcan Energy Resources on its €31.5m acquisition of a 4.8MW geothermal power plant; Lucid Agency and Trustee Services and a European infrastructure debt fund on the acquisition and funding of four onshore wind farms in Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands; and Commerz Real’s KlimaVest Fund on a strategic partnership with AMPYR Solar Europe to develop a 200MW portfolio of three solar parks. A cross-disciplinary team in Frankfurt also assisted Ingenieurversorgung Baden Württemberg with its €130m investment in EVH Grüne Energie for the development of a 200MW renewables portfolio.

Italy 

Milan-based managing partner Carloandrea Meacci and energy and infrastructure expert Elena Giuffrè have collaborated with other members of the Milan office, and their counterparts in London and Brussels, to advise a range of clients on the acquisition, finance, and purchase of renewable energy projects and portfolios. A recent highlight handled together with the London office was the advice to Arjun Infrastructure Partners on its €100m financing of Anaergia’s organic waste to natural gas projects.

ESG and sustainability is a core concern across our client base and touches on all aspects of the business. In order to provide our clients with the service and advice they need, we have developed a network of over 100 ESG advocates across the firm’s jurisdictions, practices and industries working across our entire offering; embedding ESG as a business imperative.

Through Ashurst’s Sustainability Initiative – led by the firm’s Global ESG and Sustainability Partner, Anna-Marie Slot, the firm’s approach brings together expertise across practice areas to support clients as they address ESG and sustainability in how they run their business, invest capital and raise financing. This global advocate network works with lawyers and consultants across the firm to integrate ESG expertise into all of our offerings leveraging existing expertise across core practices and applying an ESG lens to the existing advice provided to clients.

Anna-Marie Slot, Global ESG and Sustainability Partner, Ashurst

Anna-Marie is Ashurst’s global ESG and Sustainability partner, as well as global head of High Yield, with over two decades of experience working in London, Asia and New York. In addition to leading the firm’s client centric approach, she simultaneously drives Ashurst’s approach to the firm’s own goal setting and sustainability efforts.

Recognising the importance of ESG and sustainability in the way her own practice was evolving, Anna-Marie was an early adopter of sustainable/green financing within deals and advised on some of the first, and largest green bond issuances across Asia.

Anna-Marie is named Most Innovative Sustainable Lawyer at the FT Innovative Lawyers Europe Awards 2021.

Business ecosystems need to transform in order to integrate ESG considerations as a business imperative. This is an essential part of the ongoing evolution of global economic systems in recognizing the externalities of ESG that impact on business through commitments made to Net Zero pledges, Just Transition, Build Back Better and the Paris Agreement. Organisations have a first mover advantage to shape the sustainability conversation and help define the solutions that will contribute to ESG commitments around the world.

One of the challenges in ESG is that there is no one uniform definition of what constitutes Environmental, Social and Governance. Ashurst takes a global and holistic approach to the challenges of sustainability which adopts a broad interpretation of what ESG covers. Lead by the UN SDGs, Ashurst encompasses environmental, supply chain and the social impact within the sectors and communities in which it operates.

Affirming the firm’s continuing commitment to ESG and sustainability, Ashurst established its own Sustainability Goals in 2021, which chart a quantifiable path for the firm to continue to build on its culture of sustainability; progressing the firm’s journey to Net Zero; increasing pro bono and social impact and focused on helping clients capitalise on opportunities from the transition.

In terms of the E of ESG, Ashurst is committed to the fight against climate change through the work we do and the decisions we make with regards to our business. We believe our integrated approach to climate change risk, energy transition, sustainable finance and wider environmental issues is how we can best achieve our aim of becoming a leader in sustainability.

We’ve worked with over 20+ Financial Institutions on ESG/sustainability-related financial regulatory matters, for example, MUFG on its implementation of SFDR and wider ESG strategy and JP Morgan Mansart on ESG and sustainability matters, to name but a few.

We have worked on a number of ground-breaking sustainable finance bonds and loans, many of which have been “firsts” in their market.  For example, Lundin Energy on the refinancing of its US $5 billion ESG linked reserve based lending facility – named by Dealogic as one of the top sustainable finance loans.

We are also advising The UK Government on projects of high national importance such as its Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS) programme and its CfD business model for low carbon hydrogen infrastructure.

We have also led on a number of major new renewable developments in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, including seven of the largest solar portfolio financings in the UK.

Has your firm established a dedicated ESG/climate change/sustainability practice, team or task force?

Our approach is to embed ESG considerations across all the firm’s jurisdictions, practices and industries through our network of over 100 ESG advocates.

Ashurst has created two global task forces to respond and tackle ESG matters both internally and externally:

  • External Sustainability task force – Focused on engagement with our clients on ESG and sustainability and supporting client-focused initiatives. Working with the Sustainability team on client-focused strategies, materials and plans, as well as helping to track client ESG activity in their practices and jurisdictions.
  • Internal Sustainability task force – Focused on developing and delivering on our internal goals, including carbon emission reduction and sustainability goals for 2023 and beyond. The task forces also works on informing and advocating for these goals within their respective groups and offices.

What type of work do you handle in connection with “green change”?

Ashurst has unparalleled legislative, policy and regulatory experience globally. Our lawyers have experience of drafting legislation, creating and developing policies and reviewing and developing regulations for a range of related sectors globally. We have an in-depth understanding of how governments work which is derived from our extensive public sector experience across the many jurisdictions in which we operate, and we prioritise the insight and policy understanding to provide legislative services to governments and local authorities. This ensures that we are monitoring developments in relation to sustainability and sustainable finance across the globe, as well as the impact on industry of those changes. We identify global trends and share best practice between jurisdictions.

Would you like to highlight a particular area of strength?

Ashurst’s Sustainability Initiative success is reflected by the sheer number of initiatives the team has launched, , including but not limited to:

  • Developing the firm’s inaugural podcast, ESG Matters@Ashurst, which sits in the top 10% of all podcasts globally, and last year hosted the ’30 for NetZero30′ series in the lead up to COP26. The wildly successful podcast, which tackles environmental, social and governance issues weekly, has included guests such as Lord Barker, Chairman of En+ Group; James Close, Head of Climate Change at NatWest; Lord Deben, Chair of the UK Government’s Committee On Climate Change and Chair of sustainability consultancy Sancroft; Esther Pan Sloane, Head of the Partnerships, Policy and Communications at the UN Capital Development Fund; and Sean Kidney, CEO at Climate Bonds Initiative.
  • The development and launch of the firm’s first digital product – ESG Ready.
  • The inclusion of a dedicated sustainability stream in the firm’s accelerator programme, Fintech Legal Labs.
  • Active involvement in external industry-led initiatives such as AFME high yield ESG guidelines, part of the Climate Bonds Initiative and the Green Finance Initiative as well as being appointed to ICMA Advisory Council.

Has your firm implemented any internal best practices?

In 2021, Anna-Marie Slot established the COP26 Academy. This is a global, internal training conference which aimed to breakdown the jargon and build up the firms ESG knowledge to support the way we work now and in the future.

This was attended across the globe and was internally our most attended/downloaded initiative with over 4000 views globally.

At Ashurst, we also have an ESG Steering Committee within the firm comprised of our executive team and heads of departments to drive forward our ESG initiatives, as well as the two ESG task forces, mentioned above, focusing on developing and delivering on our internal goals as well as supporting our clients on how to meet theirs. These task forces meet every 6 weeks and each have on average 30 participants from across the globe.

Each of the initiatives came from an internal desire to focus more on ESG, with 93% of employees having a desire to know and do more.

Has your firm joined any external ESG-related projects, networks or initiatives?

Ashurst is an active voice in the industry dialogue on green finance. We were recently appointed to the ICMA Advisory Council of the Green Bond Principles and Social Bond Principles Executive Committee, are a member the AFME Sustainable Finance and Green Finance Working Group and the APLMA Green and Sustainable Loan Committee. We work with the Green Finance Institute, launched by the City of London Corporation in partnership with the UK Government, and also the Climate Bonds Initiative in Australia and the UK.  We are also an active member of the Chancery Lane Project.

We have been longstanding members of the Legal Sustainability Alliance (LSA) in the UK, an inclusive movement of law firms committed to working collaboratively to take action in order to improve the environmental sustainability of their operations and activities and the Australian Legal Sector Alliance (AusLSA), an industry led association working to promote best practice sustainability commitments and performance across the legal sector.  We are also an early member and supporter of the NZLA, the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance.

What are your firm’s ESG-related goals?

We recognise our responsibility as a corporate citizen across all of our jurisdictions and have announced a series of Sustainability Goals aligned to UN SDGs  as the first step in our Carbon Neutrality plan. These set out a roadmap including initial carbon reduction goals for the firm to achieve by 2023 (as against 2019 levels) including:

  • 20% reduction in CO2 emissions from travel;
  • 30% reduction in paper usage; and
  • 20% improvement in water, utility and energy usage efficiencies.

To help us achieve these goals and to offset while we reduce our emissions, we have engaged environmental consultants Natural Capital and have been certified carbon neutral since January 2020 through the establishment of an offset project programme.

Led by our Pro Bono and Social Impact team we also have four global pro bono focus areas:

  • citizenship & displacement;
  • modern slavery;
  • gender rights; and
  • racial injustice.

Furthermore, the firm is working to eradicate all forms of modern slavery through a committed action plan, critically examining all aspects of modern slavery to understand where the firm can best play a role and actively contribute to sustainable solutions to end modern slavery. Ashurst launched its Modern Slavery Action plan in October 2020.

Is your firm involved in any relevant pro bono work?

We consider pro bono as a stand-alone legal practice. This results in quality legal services for our pro bono clients. These legal services are provided in accordance with our established pro bono criteria which states that pro bono is the provision of legal assistance free of charge:

  • to disadvantaged and marginalised people of limited means;
  • to non-profit organisations and social enterprises assisting people who are disadvantaged and marginalised, where payment of legal fees would unreasonably deplete the organisation’s economic resources; and
  • in matters for the public good of broad public or community concern.

Our global pro bono practice has four priority areas including: Citizenship & Displacement; Gender Rights & Diversity; Racial Justice; and Modern Slavery.

Globally, Ashurst lawyers recorded 62,172 hours for the 2021 financial year – including pro bono coordination hours – (up by 171 hours from the 2020 financial year) and 60% participation rate.

These results are a testament to our lawyers’ commitment to supporting our communities, particularly those most in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, and people experiencing marginalisation and disadvantage.

We provide a range of legal support services including case work, research writing, law reform assistance and full time and part time secondments.

A particular pro bono project of note is the Greece Refugee Pro Bono Collaborative (work with the NGO European Lawyers in Lesvos) – Ashurst, alongside Orrick, Dentons, Allen & Overy, White & Case and Charles Russell Speechlys, and two non-governmental organisations, European Lawyers in Lesvos and Refugee Legal Support, formed the ‘Greece Pro Bono Collaborative’ Project  to help with the current access to justice crisis for asylum seekers in Greece. Through this innovative pro bono partnership, volunteer lawyers have been able to provide meaningful legal assistance both in person and remotely to asylum seekers residing in camps in the Greek Islands of Lesvos and Samos.

Is your firm involved in any public outreach or client education?

Social Impact

Through our Social Impact programme, we provide our people and clients with opportunities to share their time and professional skills to support community partners. We also recognise our role in driving forward important social justice conversations; and our ability to advocate for positive social change. Our Social Impact programme is separate from, but complementary to, our global pro bono legal practice, Diversity & Inclusion programme and Sustainability Initiative.

We seek to do this through:

  • Partnering with leading community organisations to help them deliver key community projects and services;
  • Facilitating volunteering opportunities for our people and clients to give their time and skills, and directly assist community organisations; and
  • Empowering First Nations communities by engaging with First Nations led organisations and individuals to ensure authentic impact is achieved. Our social impact work in this area is complimented by our First Nations pro bono work.

Ashurst also provides support and enhancement of young talents and transparent regulation of career paths. Initiatives include:

  • Access Ashurst: social mobility programme provides 25 Year 12 students annually with work shadowing, skills workshops/ mentoring
  • recruitment criteria: contextual recruitment system and gamified assessments use cognitive ability and emotional intelligence tests. This has increased candidates from a variety of universities, low socio economic status and ethnically diverse backgrounds
  • recruitment agency commitment programme: working with 8 agencies to identify candidates representative of wider talent pools, e.g. social mobility, gender, disability, LGBTIQ+
  • early careers programme: apprenticeships, virtual internships, graduate programmes, work experience, school and university networking events. 80% of current apprentices attended state schools
  • retention and promotion initiatives: e.g. our Race and Ethnicity Equality Group (REEG) address retention and progression. Actions include ethnicity targets, improved listening exercises and annual surveys (see III)
  • ‘Stay in Touch’ parental leave platform: partnering with Circle In we enable parents to stay connected and feel supported
  • allocation of work: dedicated work allocation managers (WAMs) create a more efficient, transparent and fairer way of allocating work

Client training

We have also produced a range of webinars and training sessions for our clients focused on ESG, including:

Have there been any recent non-confidential stand-out matters that were particularly innovative, pioneering or complex?

By embedding ESG expertise across areas, teams advise across a broad base of mandates including:

  • The UK Government on projects of high national importance such as its Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS) programme and its CfD business model for low carbon hydrogen infrastructure.
  • Over 20+ Financial Institutions on ESG/sustainability-related financial regulatory matters.
  • Mitsui & Co., Ltd on its investment in leading CCS developer Storegga Geotechnologies, the lead developer of a major Carbon Capture and Storage (“CCS”) project to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint in support of the country’s 2050 net-zero emissions target.
  • Lundin Energy on the refinancing of its US $5 billion ESG linked reserve based lending facility – named by Dealogic as one of the top sustainable finance loans.
  • Arenko Cleanteach on multiple projects concerning its AI driven energy storage optimisation and power trading services.
  • ESB on the acquisition of UK energy supply business, SO Energy, to give it backing and resources to become ‘the next big green energy supplier in the UK’.
  • The banks on Continuum Energy Levanter on Continuum’s debut bond, its first green bond and the first offshore/onshore project bond structure by an Indian corporate.
  • Conrad Energy, the UK’s largest flexible power generator, as they adopt new renewable technologies and move into the battery storage and hydrogen fuel cell sector.
  • Low Carbon Limited on its strategic partnership with MassMutual, to accelerate its transition to renewable energy.
  • Foresight Group-on its Foresight Energy Infrastructure Partners Fund (FEIP), a sustainability-led energy infrastructure fund that has been shaped to achieve specific decarbonisation objectives.
  • Tritax Big Box REIT on the first Sterling green bond issuance by a UK REIT.
  • The lenders and SACE on a €160 million loan to EF Solare Italia SpA, the largest owner of solar energy plants in Italy as part of the Italian Green New Deal.

When did ESG, climate change and/or sustainability become an area of focus at your firm?

Ashurst has been involved in ESG and the renewable energy and power sectors for decades. Our key shift to focus on Sustainability, however, was reinforced in 2019, when we announced the appointment of Anna-Marie Slot as the firm’s first Global Sustainability Partner.

Anna-Marie Slot commented:

Ashurst has been an active voice in the area of green finance and is a world leader in the power and renewables sector. Through our support of various sustainability-focused organisations worldwide, such as the Climate Bond Initiative, Ashurst has played a key role in this rapidly evolving area. And we are intending to leverage this expertise and focus to the benefit of all of our clients”.

What has driven your firm’s involvement in a green transition? (Client demand? Business case? Personal attitudes/beliefs/initiatives?)

We recognise that the business systems that we operate within need to be resilient and sustainable for us and future generations.  Together with our clients and our colleagues we recognize the need for a dedicated focus and urgency to us working towards that path and working with our clients on their path.  Sustainability is at the heart of our commitment to become the world’s most progressive law firm.   It is a core principle that is discussed at Board level and supported across all levels of the firm.

We also have incredibly passionate employees; in a 2021 staff survey, 93% of respondents told us that they wanted to know more about ESG and how they could get involved in shaping and implementing initiatives. In recent years, we have also seen an increase in companies across all sectors bringing ESG to their boardroom tables and project planning.

Do you have any strategic plans to expand your work or your initiatives in this area in the future?

We see our work so far as just the base upon to grow. We will continue to have ESG as a key business imperative that drives our business focus. Our first set of internal ESG goals are set to be achieved by the end of 2023, and we see a further increase in the number of clients engaging with us and wanting to hear more about our ESG offering.

Where do you see the future of ESG/sustainability in the legal community (both in terms of legal offerings and firms’ best practices)?

2022 will not be about addressing just one aspect of sustainability, it’s the opportunity for us to look at the problems and the solutions holistically. It also provides an incredible opportunity for companies who have identified the competitive advantages and risks of sustainability to be the leaders in their fields. Refer to our 2022 predictions piece below:

https://www.ashurst.com/en/news-and-insights/insights/our-sustainability-predictions-for-2022

Recent awards and accolades

  • Most Sustainable Lawyer at the FT Innovative Lawyer Awards 2021
  • ESG Climate Transition Award (Mitsui Storegga) – IJGlobal ESG Awards 2021
  • Asia-Pacific ESG Deal of the Year (Tilt Renewables) – PFI Awards 2021
  • Top firm for Energy & Renewables – The Times’ Best Law Firms 2021
  • Law Society Excellence in Pro Bono Awards – Asylum Aid Statelessness Project
  • Legal Innovation Awards – CSR Innovation – Social Category – Modern Slavery Action Plan
  • People in Law Awards: Grand Prix – Given to the overall best HR initiative across all categories for our social mobility work in recruitment
  • People in Law Awards: Best Social Mobility Initiative
  • Lawyers Weekly Partner of the Year Awards 2021 (Sarah Morton-Ramwell – Pro Bono Partner of the Year)
  • Lawyer Awards – Pro Bono Initiative of the Year (Citizenship & Displacement Programme)
  • PILnet Pro Bono Publico Award 2020 – Greece Pro Bono Collaborative Project