Green Guide - EMEA: Taylor Wessing
Multiservice international law firm, Taylor Wessing has advised clients for many years on matters pertaining to renewables, waste recycling, and environmental protection, and has also been involved in the drafting of renewable energy legislation, such as in the French Overseas Territories. Hydrogen is a particular topic of focus; the firm has produced a publication exploring relevant regulatory issues across multiple EMEA jurisdictions. A dedicated ESG team is expanding across the region, and at the same time the firm is coordinating its efforts towards a carbon neutral and sustainable way of doing business across various EMEA offices. Besides the German, French and Dutch teams, among others, Central Eastern Europe regional operations are also increasingly active in this space. The Slovakia team particularly stands out for its provision of legal advice in the establishment of the platform Circular Slovakia, which aims to increase discussions between the public and private sector and highlight opportunities and barriers in the transition to a circular economy.
Taylor Wessing’s Paris-based team is highly active in the developing hydrogen market. Sophie Pignon is spearheading the firm’s engagement with government on the matter, assisting in the recent report published in April 2021 by the French Senate as part of the wider national strategy for the development of low-carbon hydrogen in France. Nicolas de Witt and Sandra Baes are key players in the corporate and M&A teams and recently advised 123 IM on the bank financing for Biosyl, an industrial player in the circular economy operating in a short circuit that transforms wood waste and scraps into a low CO2 emission energy, wood pellets. The firm is a key partner and participant in World Clean-Up Day in France, has a pro bono programme assisting several social and green initiatives, and has implemented various internal initiatives to promote sustainable behaviours within the company.
Taylor Wessing’s longstanding energy and infrastructure teams in Germany are well equipped to advise clients at all stages of the value chain. Carsten Bartholl and his team hold a particularly strong presence in the field of renewables having recently advised CEE Group on the acquisition of the first onshore wind and storage project in Germany to date (consisting of two multi-megawatt class wind turbines and a battery storage system at the Schmölln II wind farm), including its corresponding Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The team is also well versed in environmental regulation, EU Taxonomy and the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act. Sustainable investment is a key focus of the finance practice; practice head Clemens Niedner led the advice to a syndicate of banks under joint coordination of Commerzbank and UniCredit regarding a €500m syndicated financing for the M-Dax group Symris which included individually designed sustainability criteria. Among various internal Germany-wide initiatives, the ideas-competition ‘Challenge Accepted!’ led to the implementation of a ‘Changers App’ to measure individuals’ carbon footprints generated from transportation. The project is part of the firm’s path towards carbon neutrality and aims to reduce carbon emissions by 380 tonnes.
At Taylor Wessing, we have outstanding lawyers, both nationally and internationally, who advise on the wide range of issues surrounding ESG and sustainability. Moreover, we have implemented several inward-looking efforts to strengthen our efforts in being a sustainable international law firm.
In order to meet the diverse issues and needs of our clients, our lawyers work closely together across legal fields and sectors, e.g. ESG and sustainability aspects are becoming increasingly complex and involve significant legal questions. As the framework is more and more underpinned by new and more precisely defined legal requirements, legal advice is required to mitigate risks and realize advantages.
At the same time, Taylor Wessing has long since recognized the climate crisis and the need to take action to mitigate our impact on the environment. We have started a series of activities in our individual jurisdictions and will now work on reaching even more eager targets through our international efforts. Each of our jurisdictions will define its specific goals and develop its roadmap to net zero with a close view to the international strategy of the firm. For this purpose for example, we have recently formed the firm’s International Sustainability Forum (ISF) to facilitate and share best practice to ensure comparability of approaches across our firm. With the establishment of the ISF we create and share an international framework for achieving net zero in our jurisdictions, formulate an international roadmap for implementation reflecting local structures, needs and timelines, including a credible offsetting standard, and in particular develop an international understanding of client expectations, the expectations of our people, and the changing regulatory environment.
The needs of our clients and employees are critical success factors for our company. In addition to purely economic aspects, environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues are becoming increasingly relevant. Taylor Wessing has developed a holistic strategy on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG-strategy). Sustainability is an integral & necessary part of our business strategy and creates added value for both our operational business and our ecosystem. Our ESG-strategy comprises a number of measures & fields of action for the sustainable development of Taylor Wessing. With respect to the Environment, we aim for achieving Net Zero and we have, in addition to our efforts so far, begun to implement a challenging roadmap in our jurisdictions to do so. In addition, we want to achieve and maintain compliance with relevant environmental standards – we want our active business to match our responsibility as partners in a living society and in a challenging environment. With respect to Social aspects, we work on increasing the proportion of women in equity partnership, we ensure progressive and fair working conditions and we develop attractive career models. When it comes to Governance, we promote corporate governance to uphold our social responsibility, we live and develop our corporate values and we place great value on our Pro Bono Program. We strongly encourage engagement of all employees and ask them to be involved, e.g. through structured idea management, incentives for ESG actions, contribution of ideas, pro bono consulting, etc. For example, in some of our offices, we have implemented “Bessermacher” groups consisting of employees and partners to develop and implement measures to reduce the carbon footprint and to reach a large variety of ESG targets.
For our clients, we work on ESG matters across many practice areas and industry groups. Within our dedicated ESG group, the international team is comprised of lawyers from a variety of practice areas and industry groups, in particular from the Industry Group Energy and Infrastructure, from Commercial Real Estate, Banking & Finance, Compliance, Corporate/M&A, Commercial Agreements and Distribution, Environmental Planning & Regulatory and many more. We provide support tailored to our clients’ ESG journeys. We provide legal advice on key topics such as sustainable finance and investment, green lease agreements, corporate power purchase agreements and power concepts as well as on corporate governance, product liability and product safety, advertising and marketing, health and safety, regulatory and disclosure obligations, brand management and real estate and planning. In addition, we advise companies on legal components related to Corporate Social Responsibility, for example on the implementation of the Supply Chain Due Dilligence Act in the company as well as the legal integration of sustainability aspects into compliance management systems.
Has your firm established a dedicated ESG/climate change/sustainability practice, team or task force?
Yes, within our dedicated ESG group, the team is comprised of lawyers from a variety of practice areas and industry groups, e.g. from our Industry Group Energy and Infrastructure, Commercial Real Estate, Real Estate and Construction, Banking & Finance, Compliance, Corporate/M&A, Commercial Agreements and Distribution, Environmental Planning & Regulatory. We support our clients’ ESG journeys and provide legal advice on diverse key topics in this field such as sustainable finance and investment, green lease agreements, corporate power purchase agreements and power concepts as well as on corporate governance, product liability and product safety, advertising and marketing, health and safety, regulatory and disclosure obligations, brand management and real estate and planning. In addition, we advise companies on legal components related to Corporate Social Responsibility, for example on the implementation of the Supply Chain Due Dilligence Act in the company as well as the legal integration of sustainability aspects into compliance management systems.
In addition, we firmly believe in the importance of implementing our own ESG strategy and related measures in order to protect our ecosystem. Early in 2021, the Taylor Wessing Global Board confirmed its commitment for all Verein firms to achieve Net Zero.The firm’s International Sustainability Forum has been formed to facilitate and share best practice to ensure comparability of approaches across the Verein. Apart from our overall strategic group and goals, we are glad to see may national and local initiatives dealing with many different aspects of the ESG tableau.
What type of work do you handle in connection with “green change”?
It is practically impossible, these days, to advise without an eye (or two) on green change issues. But we are well prepared: Since more than a decade, we have supported green change by advising on numerous renewable energy projects, focussing on onshore and offshore wind and solar PV transactions and project finance. We have a top ranked projects, energy and infrastructure team advising on offshore wind plant construction since the establishment of the first offshore wind farm in German waters. We have been advising on VC transactions for sustainability or carbon emission reduction projects since this market had first started to develop. In addition, we advise energy intensive companies worldwide on their power concepts and corporate power purchase agreements as part of their respective efforts to decarbonize and meet internal sustainability standards. On real estate matters, we advise clients on new regulatory requirements and develop green lease agreements, at the interface between our Energy & Infrastructure, Environmental Planning & Regulatory, Real Estate and Banking & Finance practices, we provide full service legal advice on aspects of rising interests such as rooftop PV and PV open space. When it comes to sustainable finance and investment, we understand that the rising investors’ interest in sustainability oriented investment assets together with rapid developing regulations on sustainable finance keep ESG on the top of the list of priorities of European fund managers in the years to come. We advise the entire financial services industry on ways to comply with rising expectations of European regulators in this field.
Would you like to highlight a particular area of strength?
Given our cross practice interdisciplinary approach to ESG, we offer the full range of ESG-related services to our clients. We can help them measure and communicate compliance and risk levels, address shareholder concerns, and comply with regulation. Furthermore, we can do this with for operations around the world. We are particularly strong when it comes to sustainable finance and investment, renewables transactions, offshore plant construction and at the interface of Real Estate, Energy & Infrastructure related ESG matters.
Has your firm implemented any internal best practises?
The firm’s International Sustainability Forum has been formed to facilitate and share best practice across our firm. We have implemented several best practices in the field of ESG in our jurisdictions. To name a few:
We annually participate in an EcoVadis Corporate Social Responsibility audit in Germany. Our auditor’s assessment criteria are based on internationally recognised CSR standards such as the UN Global Compact Principles, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the ISO 26000 standard and the CERES Principles. In 2021 we updated our comprehensive Environmental Policy (Link) and we published our first Environmental Report including major parts our carbon footprint from 2016-2019 (Link) in Germany. Moreover, we started a German firm-wide idea competition to address sustainability issues within the firm and realized two employee-initiated projects originating from this: In the first project, we implemented screensavers and automatic stand-by of monitors functions saving 14,000 kWh energy per year. In the second project, we implemented an application that encourages employees to voluntarily avoid CO2-intensive means of transport on their way to work and to switch to bicycles, public transport or to walk instead. As a token of recognition for the commitment of our employees, we have so far planted 500 oak trees that will help to save approximately 100 tons of CO2 over their life cycle.
In France, a number a significant changes were implemented. We eliminated single-use plastics and implemented recycling programs for all type of office supplies. In addition, we intensified our pro bono program, assisting several social and green initiatives since its implementation. Further, we initiated paper/printing reduction initiatives; in particular we introduced paperless court correspondence. Finally, energy saving lightning was installed in the French office.
We have received the Green certificate 2021 for our Amsterdam office. It is now solely powered by green energy. In addition, we reduced plastics in the Netherlands, started energy reduction initiatives such as the “lights off” campaign and implemented a recycling programme for equipment.
We started a cooperation with sustainability organizations in CEE, reduced single-use plastics introduced energy saving lightbulbs / LEDs in all our offices and implemented cycle to work schemes. We even engage in beekeeping on the roof of our office building in Poland.
Has your firm joined any external ESG-related projects, networks or initiatives?
We signed the Diversity Charta, a corporate initiative to promote diversity in companies and institutions. In doing so, we committee ourselves to creating a working environment free of biases and to valuating of all employees regardless of age, ethnic origin and nationality, gender, religion and worldview, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation and social background (Link). We are also member and sponsor of ALICE, the LGBTIQ+-network for lawyers (Link). We collaborate other law firms, schools of law and in house counsel within the Legal Sustainability Alliance, a network in which members share best practice and work together on mitigating the own impact on the ecosystem (Link).
What are your firm’s ESG-related goals?
In Germany, we have set an ESG Strategy for the next three years with help of an external strategy consultant. We aim for achieving net zero and we have started to add a number of measures and initiatives, e.g. on travel or office space uses, to our already existing list of goals achieved. Further, we plan achieving and maintaining compliance with relevant environmental standards. In addition, we are committed to reaching far greater diversity in staff and equity partnership, to progressive and fair working conditions and to attractive career models. We adhere to our corporate values and intensify our Pro Bono Program.
Is your firm involved in any relevant pro bono work?
As mentioned before, our firm is involved in local pro bono work in particular in relation to social and green initiatives. Examples include pro bono work for and contributions to charity such as the Ronald McDonald house and Kinderzomergeluk in the Netherlands and association in charge of the World Clean Up Day in France. In the Czech Republic and Poland, we have closely worked together with pro bono alliances for many years.
Have there been any recent non-confidential stand-out matters that were particularly innovative, pioneering or complex?
There are some. As I had said before, it is hardly possible anymore to advise without a very close watch on ESG topics. It is our existing knowledge from our ESG commitment in the past which enables us to match our client’s needs of today in ESG related matters and of course, we are glad, to learn more and more about what should or can be done to help our clients to be successful in a more complex, ESG-influenced environment.
We have advised UniCredit as documentation agent on the syndicated financing for Symrise group, listed in the MDAX. The EUR 500,000,000 facility is provided by an international consortium. The highly complex sustainability criteria are individually tailored to the needs of the group and include the eco-efficiency of greenhouse gas emissions, the expansion of sustainable procurement processes for biological raw materials and increasing the efficiency of water consumption in arid regions. (Link)
We have advised Encavis AG on the conclusion of a syndicated financing of EUR 125 million. The revolving credit facility contains ratings-based sustainability criteria, has a term of up to five years and was arranged by Encavis and Commerzbank. The majority of the facilities is available on a revolving basis for the purchase of renewables projects and thus offers Encavis the possibility to spontaneously and easily broaden the portfolio of the group’s own renewables assets.
We have advised CEE Group on a special renewable energy transaction. CEE Group acquired the only “onshore wind+storage” project in Germany to date from juwi including a PPA contract with MVV Trading GmbH.
We have advised 123 IM in a fund raising and bank financing for Biosyl. Biosyl is an industrial player in the circular economy operating in a short circuit that transforms wood waste and scraps into a low CO2 emission energy, wood pellets.
Taylor Wessing Slovakia has provided legal advice in the process of the establishment of Circular Slovakia and created the framework of its operation and decision-making process. Taylor Wessing Slovakia continuously provides Circular Slovakia with complex legal advice in the area of corporate and contract law.
Taylor Wessing Slovakia has provided legal advice in the process of the setting up of Dostupny Domov j.s.a., which is aimed at providing social housing for people who, due to their life circumstances, cannot afford decent housing. Taylor Wessing Slovakia continuously provides the client with complex legal advice in the area of corporate and contract law.
When did ESG, climate change and/or sustainability become an area of focus at your firm?
In the early 2000s (and in part also as early as in the 1990s) we were among the first to advise on carbon dioxide reduction investments and on renewable energy projects. We had formed the Taylor Wessing Clean Tech Group as early as 2006 to gather the knowhow from our various activities and jurisdictions and from this group, our Industry Group Energy has developed with its strong focus on renewable energy transactions. We have made this knowledge available to gain our footprint in the offshore industry. And so forth. In 2019 we started aligning local ESG / CSR initiatives. Since 2019, the German firm participates in the EcoVadis audit annually. In 2021, the International Sustainability Forum was created and the firm committed itself to work on achieving net zero and currently develop a roadmap to do so.
What has driven your firm’s involvement in a green transition? (Client demand? Business case? Personal attitudes/beliefs/initiatives?)
Climate Change and the Energy Turnaround will not just “go away”. The pure necessity of the energy turnaround with its many, many aspects (mobility, circular economy, cities of the future to name a few apart from renewables) is convincing in itself – one cannot stand aside. And as this has evidently the same impact on our clients’ businesses, the correct answer is: All of the above. While ESG certainly is a growing and increasingly complex area of law at the interface of many practice areas, we firmly believe that in setting sustainability standards internally is a key factor to attract and retain talent at all levels. Needless to say that external demand is also driving the development with an increasing number of firms requesting information on ESG and sustainability initiatives, rankings and audit results prior to entrusting firms with work.
Do you have any strategic plans to expand your work or your initiatives in this area in the future?
Yes, we are developing further joint initiatives through our Global ESG panel. Some jurisdictions have implemented specific ESG Strategies for the next years with strategic and implementation advice of an external strategy consultant. Others will follow. We are guided by our firm belief that sustainability becomes an integral and necessary component of our law firm. We will implement further measures regarding the environmental, social and governance dimensions of ESG in the next three years.