Green Guide – UK: Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP

Founding member of the Legal Sustainability Alliance, Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP has been a specialist in clean and renewable energy for over 30 years, advising on a full range of issues and developments in this area from CCUS to a floating offshore wind project in Devon.

Richard Cockburn in Edinburgh leads the energy group, while Simon Hughes in Bristol heads up the energy and natural resources real estate practice. The latter leads the team who acts as sole legal advisor to Renewable Energy Systems regarding all aspects of their significant portfolio of wind, storage, and solar projects. Another key client of the group is Windel Energy, which the firm assisted with its partnership with Canadian Solar to develop 1.5GW of battery storage system projects in the UK.

The team has advised lenders and funds, including The Renewable Infrastructure Group (TRIG) and the Green Investment Group on investments in novel renewable projects. It is also engaged with the public sector, as the primary promoter for Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council on all aspects of town centre’s low carbon energy network scheme, which aims to supply low carbon heat and power to both public and private customers.

The firm itself has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2030 and is currently in its fifth year of carbon reporting and certification with The Planet Mark. Internally, it has adopted a top-down approach with active involvement at the senior management level, including Nick Barwood who leads the responsible business group. The Environmental Management Review Team is responsible for driving firmwide as well as regional environmental initiatives.

Womble Bond Dickinson operates on a local, national and global scale in the energy sector. Our energy clients hail from across the globe and range dramatically from entrepreneurial new entrants to established independents, utilities, funders, financial institutions, governments, regulators and worldwide energy giants. It is our goal to enable clients to meet their ambitions, fulfil their potential and achieve sustainable growth. 

Richard Cockburn | Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP

Our team is led by Richard Cockburn, who works across the clean energy spectrum with a particular specialism in carbon capture and hydrogen projects. The wider leadership team consists of Chris Towner who advises on the regulatory and commercial aspects of a wide range of energy projects and who currently serves as Chair of Renewable UK’s Offshore Wind Delivery Group. Sebastian Briggs leads from a corporate and finance perspective. His experience includes acting on sales, purchases, financing and investment in relation to renewable energy projects 

Simon Hughes, leads the firm’s energy and natural resources real estate team with support from Anthony Alderman and Fiona O’Kane. Vicki Redman advises clients in all aspects of contentious and non-contentious planning, environmental and compulsory purchase matters. Ian Newcombe advises from a disputes resolution perspective He undertakes a broad range of high value and complex litigations for energy clients both before the courts and in alternative dispute resolution. He has particular expertise in advising on and dealing with disputes arising from carbon saving and renewable energy schemes and initiatives. Finally, projects and procurement lawyer, Andrew Hirst, leads on heat networks advising on public sector contracts and public procurement focusing on PFI handback, heat networks, leisure and waste.

Founding member of the Legal Sustainability Alliance, Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP has been a specialist in clean and renewable energy for over 30 years, advising on a full range of issues and developments in this area from CCUS, hydrogen, offshore wind and onshore generation through to also providing energy retailers, consumers and utilities with a full range of legal support.  

The firm’s clean energy credentials are market leading as evidenced by the work conducted for major players such as acting as sole legal advisor to Renewable Energy Systems in all aspects of their significant portfolio of wind, storage, and solar projects. Another example is Windel Energy, which the firm assisted with its partnership with Canadian Solar to develop 1.5GW of battery storage system projects in the UK. 

The firm acts as sole advisors to Renewable Energy Systems Limited on all aspects of the development of their significant onshore wind, storage and solar portfolio in respect of new development and life extension projects. The firm is also engaged with the public sector, as the primary promoter for Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council on all aspects of town centre’s low carbon energy network scheme, which aims to supply low carbon heat and power to both public and private customers. The firm is also a leading player in offshore wind having acted on over 30 UK offshore wind projects over nearly three decades, including English rounds 2-4 and Scotwind. A notable matter is the support given to Energie Baden-Württemberg on its joint venture with BP to develop two major offshore wind projects in the Irish Sea and a 3 GW project offshore Scotland. 

The firm itself has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2030 and is currently in its sixth year of carbon reporting and certification with The Planet Mark. Internally, it has adopted a top-down approach with active involvement at the senior management level, including the firm’s chair who leads the firm’s Ethical Thinking Group. The Environmental Management Review Team is responsible for driving initiatives firmwide as well as regional environmental initiatives. 

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

At the firm, our ESG commitments are led by our UK Chair, Nick Barwood and General Counsel, Nicki Shepherd. Underneath this sit our six pillars that make up ESG: environment, wellbeing, community engagement, social mobility, diversity & inclusion and governance. Each of these pillars is headed up by a senior leader and a team committed to the work, as well as being supported by partner and employee networks.  

For example for the Environment pillar, this is led by a planning partner (net zero) and our Head of Facilities (environmental management), supported by our Sustainability Manager and net zero team, environmental management review team and environmental representatives. 

All of this work is overseen by our Ethical Thinking Group and supported by our Responsible Business Manager. 

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

We advise on the full lifecycle of projects in the renewable energy and transition space. Our expert services include: 

  • planning issues and applications (including both local authority and significant distribution network operator experience) 
  • procurement and consenting advice 
  • real estate issues, both onshore and offshore, including with The Crown Estate and linear projects 
  • project structuring, including tax and regulatory analysis, and acting for developers, financiers and sponsors in relation to consortia and joint venture establishment and operation 
  • secondary markets mergers and acquisitions 
  • market leading power and regulatory experience 
  • advising on engineering, procurement and construction arrangements and issues 
  • environmental, health, safety and compliance advice 
  • pipeline, crossing and transportation arrangements 
  • specialist expertise in manufacturing, chemicals and industrial processes, and in the steps being taken to decarbonise those industries;  
  • decommissioning 
  • contentious advice, litigation and arbitration, and 
  • corporate governance and reporting advice.

Would you like to highlight a particular area of strength? 

Offshore Wind – We are a leading UK player in offshore wind having acted on over 30 UK offshore wind projects (in consenting, construction and operation) over nearly three decades. We advise on the UK offshore licensing rounds (including ScotWind), Development Consent Orders and consenting strategy as well as all aspects of land assembly. We handle construction matters, sale and purchase of offshore wind assets, and any related or subsequent commercial matters or disputes. 

Onshore Generation – We are market leaders in onshore wind and solar. Our UK wide team has advised on many of the UK’s most high profile and ground breaking projects, including the first onshore wind farm in the UK (Delabole, Cornwall), the UK’s largest onshore wind project (Whitelee, South Ayrshire/East Lanarkshire) and the most remote (Pentland Road, Isle of Lewis). On the solar side, we have been working on schemes since the outset of the industry on both ground mounted schemes up to 50 megawatts and roof mounted schemes (both commercial and residential buildings). 

CCUS/Hydrogen – We are one of only a small number of law firms currently advising clients on CCUS and hydrogen projects. We advise on cluster developments, combining carbon capture utilisation and storage, hydrogen and decarbonisation projects across the UK. Our clients in this space range from the large national and international developers to utilities, infrastructure owners, independent developers, contractors, funders and other stakeholders.  

Decarbonisation of heatWe are working with numerous local authorities on their programmes to roll-out heat networks as part of decarbonising this part of the energy system. 

Transmission & Distribution We are a panel firm for National Grid and work with major utilities on the onshore and offshore networks needed to connect offshore wind projects to the onshore grid.  

Energy Retail/Supply We work with established major suppliers such as British Gas, ScottishPower and npower on a wide range of commercial, litigation and regulatory matters. We have advised Ovo at each stage of its development from new entrant to becoming one of the “Big 5”. 

BESS (battery energy storage systems) Companies seeking to develop energy storage projects turn to us to advise them on the full “cradle to grave” service, from land acquisition, funding and planning consents, to regulatory issues, grid connection matters and potential revenue streams. We acted on one of the first ever battery storage M&A transaction in the UK back in 2017 and have maintained a strong track record since.  

Has your firm implemented any internal best practices? 

As a firm committed to net zero by 2030, we have been implementing a number of changes and steps in order to get us there. From consolidating our office space, to capturing employee commuting, to working with suppliers to understand their emissions, to implementing a responsible travel policy, we have been working hard to make changes that collectively have a big impact. This work is very much driven from ‘the top down’ at Board level and with heavy input from our Ethical Thinking Group (senior leadership group) who shape our ESG vision and strategy. 

We are now (2022/2023) finalising our scope 3 emissions mapping for our baseline year and will be refreshing our environmental strategy with a key focus on those areas with higher emissions. 

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

We are part of numerous networks and initiatives progressing various parts of our internal ESG strategy. An example is the Legal Sustainability Alliance which dates back to 2007 and of which we were founding members. Currently, we are extremely active as executive members and have representation on both the leadership and operational groups.   

Through our work with Planet Mark, we have contributed to the efforts of Cool Earth (an organisation committed to tackling climate change through the protection of endangered rainforest) and have also planted trees with the National Trust. We continually seek areas of external engagement and collaboration to ensure that our ESG efforts attain maximum impact. 

We are also engaged in various networks and projects helping to progress specific areas under our wider ESG framework such as progressing our wellbeing practices. One example is our collaborative action as part of the Mindful Business Charter which focuses on creating thoughtful working practices producing healthy working environments. 

What are your firm’s ESG-related goals? 

At the start of 2022, we outlined a new five year strategy for the firm which included a number of ESG-related goals. Some of these goals included: 

  • Achieving Gold Investors in People (achieved Summer 2022) 
  • Achieving Gold EcoVadis Sustainability Rating (achieved Summer 2022) 
  • Achieving Bronze Stonewall Medal (achieved Silver Medal in Summer 2022, we are now aiming for Gold) 
  • Reaching Net Zero by 2030 and releasing a strong net zero action plan to compliment this 
  • Becoming Disability Confident Leader (we are currently Disability Confident Employer) 
  • Ranking in the top 75 in the Social Mobility Index (achieved 41st ranking, 2022)

These goals ensure that we keep growing and developing as a business and do so in the right way, by holding true to our values.  

Is your firm involved in any relevant pro bono work? 

We are involved in pro bono work at the firm helping both charities and individuals. We launched a project with the University of Law earlier in 2022 providing volunteers for a Small Business Clinic which runs fortnightly once per term. We have been involved in a variety of areas including privacy and contract terms, and the students at the University listen in on the call. 

The firm also gets involved in providing pro bono advice to charities. A recent example is the work of James Love, a partner in the firm’s intellectual property team, who assisted Life Cycle UK through the intellectual property registration process to help the charity register its brand assets with the Intellectual Property Office. Associate Sally Cooper from the firm’s charities team provided further assistance for a change of name, supporting Life Cycle’s move to drop ‘UK’ from its title.   

WBD’s energy team advised Ambition Community Energy (ACE), a community interest company founded by local resident-driven charity Ambition Lawrence Weston (ALW) on a 4.2-megawatt onshore wind turbine. The team provided key legal expertise, including on a pro-bono basis, in relation to planning strategy, funding and environmental matters. The project positively demonstrates the appetite for solutions to the climate emergency at a local level. 

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

We regularly collaborate with clients and industry bodies around training and developments in line with many of the areas listed above.  

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

We have assisted on a number of non-confidential stand out matters this year including: 

Advising long-standing client RES, the world’s largest independent renewable energy company, on  the sale of Aberarder Wind Farm to SSE Renewables. The 12-turbine project located in Strathnairn, near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, has a consented capacity of 49.9 MW. When constructed the wind farm will contribute to a more secure and diverse energy supply for Scotland and the UK. Click here to read more 

We also advised SeAH Wind on a deal to supply turbine foundations for the Hornsea 3 wind farm – the first contract awarded to the newly invested Teesside factory. The deal will contribute to ramping up SeAH’s vast new site being built at Teesworks and represents the single largest offshore wind foundations order secured by any UK Company so far. Click here to read more 

We support Vattenfall on the Norfolk Vanguard / Norfolk Boreas wind farms which recently won the National Infrastructure Planning Association’s (NIPA) Best Project award in part for the work with the local community. Judges praised the persistence shown by the team and their efforts in learning from early challenges, along with the efforts taken to tackle really big challenges in offshore wind, particularly around protecting the environment.  

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

At Womble Bond Dickinson we take our role and responsibility in society seriously, and recognise our ability to impact on our community, colleagues and clients. Managing our ESG credentials is essential and we submit annually to EcoVadis, a sustainability rating, looking at environment, labour and human rights, sustainable procurement and ethics.  

Our ESG agenda sits as a core pillar of our strategy to deliver our firm’s purpose and vision.  Under the ESG pillar, we aim to unlock potential to build an industry-leading sustainable, inclusive and progressive culture. 

Responsible business has always played a part in life at this firm because ultimately it is the right thing to do. As our strategy and work has developed, so have the tools for reporting as well as the interest from colleagues, clients and communities in the work that we do. We see ESG as an essential part of how we do things at WBD and we feel that is only likely to continue to grow in importance with time. 

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

We have been immersed in the green transition for almost three decades and have advised on many industry ‘firsts’, including advising on the first onshore wind farm project in the UK (Delabole, Cornwall), the UK’s largest onshore wind project (Whitelee, South Ayrshire/ East Lanarkshire) and the first M&A transaction in relation to an offshore wind farm project (acquisition of Rhyl Flats by Npower). 

Ultimately we believe in doing the right thing. Our ESG agenda sits as a core pillar of our strategy to deliver the firm’s purpose and vision.  Under the ESG pillar we aim to unlock potential to build an industry-leading sustainable, inclusive and progressive culture.  

Our clients, communities and colleagues continue to expect us to be doing good in this space and that continues to keep our efforts focused and driven towards our goals.  

We are often asked by clients to hold a specific standard such as ISO 14001, or whether we are committed to progressing diversity and inclusion. We also have to make commitments when bidding for new work which focus on finding commonality between us and the client i.e. pledging to meet virtually where possible to help both the client and our net zero commitments, or providing a positive impact on the community through volunteering together with the client to make a difference to a cause that’s close to their hearts. One third of all the bids we submit at the firm include an area or question focused on ESG at the firm. 

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

Alongside our Responsible Business Manager, we have recruited a new Responsible Business Apprentice, demonstrating our commitment to growth in this space. One of our colleagues has also transitioned to a Sustainability Manager role having previously worked in facilities management, and again this demonstrates that the firm is taking ESG seriously. In addition, we have seen the number of internal networks and groups increase significantly in recent years – a true indication of the growing focus in the ESG space. For example we have seen a 25% increase in the number of environmental representatives at the firm since the pandemic. 

Accountability is key to us achieving our goals. Accountability for us is having clear leadership and therefore responsibility for driving forward our ESG agenda. For example for ISO 14001 we have to provide a leadership structure for progressing out environmental goals. We have partner leads for areas under our Responsible Business Framework which we have communicated internally and externally outlining our leadership structure of ESG at the firm. 

As mentioned previously, we’ve also outlined our 5 year strategy at the firm which includes a pillar focusing on ESG. Some of our key strategic goals are outlined above. 

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

We expect to see a progression and expansion in reporting and certification bodies. We know through experience that certifications, such as EcoVadis, review their questionnaire each year and make changes and we will continue adapting to these to ensure we’re delivering best practice for our colleagues, clients and communities. 

We also hope to see further collaboration with clients and suppliers. For example earlier this year we ran a webinar with a supplier focusing on ESG for the first time. We hope that as commitments such as net zero help us to focus on our supply chain further this will lead to more collaborative working. 

We are also working more with other law firms – this includes through networks such as the LSA and Corporate Responsibility Network. These networks drive forward change across the sector and share best practice.