MINTER ELLISON, as the only law firm involved in the Australian Corporate Responsibility Index, has been awarded a silver ranking in the fourth annual results.
And along with the silver ranking, the firm was also presented with a Best Progress Award at the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development in Brisbane on Monday, 21 May.
Guy Templeton, chief executive of Minters, said the firm had not even achieved a bronze rating in previous years.
“This year we skipped bronze and went straight to silver, which is over 80 per cent, and we got 84,” he said. “We need to get to 94 for gold, and we now have our action plans together to say how might we bridge the gap.”
No other Australian law firm is involved in the index, which strikes Templeton as unusual.
“I don’t really know why we’re the only law firm involved,” he said. “Possibly the other law firms haven’t contributed because there hasn’t been a need, but we are taking a leadership position in the space.”
Templeton said the firm improved its ranking by elevating its environmental performance (through participation in the Federal Government’s greenhouse challenge program); greater commitment to reporting corporate social responsibility (CSR) targets and performance, and entrenching CSR issues in the firm’s structure.
“The [CSR] movement started with publicly listed companies who were subject to a higher degree of scrutiny. As a private partnership, the required levels of disclosure are quite small,” he said.
“But it was a decision made by the firm some years ago, that it very much embraced the principles, so we really said, ‘if this is what publicly listed companies do, then why shouldn’t we do that as well’, and took the first step.”
Committing to CSR reporting is not an easy thing for a law firm to do, Templeton said, unless it is prepared to undergo significant change.
“One of the things we have done, where we gained some more points, is to ensure that there are designated members of the executive group, who are tasked with responsibilities and key performance indicators around core aspects of [CSR].
“We’ve actually institutionalised the way we go about this, and that takes a bit of effort. And if it doesn’t come from within, there is nobody externally who is going to say ‘hey, just a minute, you’re not taking this seriously enough’.”
According to Templeton, if Minters is to reach the gold level, then it will have to do more with its environmental policies.
“We’ve now written in to all our tender documents for all our suppliers [that] we want to understand what they are doing around their environmental policies and [CSR] policies.”
The firm decided to make those requests of their suppliers, because one client, Westpac, had asked the same of Minters, Templeton said. But there is still more work to be done.
“We are striving to move towards being carbon neutral, and as part of that we clearly want to reduce electricity use,” he said. “We are also engaging more actively with the managers of the buildings that we occupy, around things like waste management.”
Minters has committed to reducing its use of paper by 10 per cent by the end of the year “because lawyers use an awful lot of paper,” Templeton said.
“Just things like resetting all of our laser printer defaults to being double-sided, so if you want to print single-sided for client advice, you do the work to override the double-sided setting. That saves a huge amount of paper.”