Law firms in Australia are getting greener, with reductions in staff numbers helping firms to meet environmental targets.
Late 4 December, the annual Australian Legal Sector Alliance (AusLSA) report was released. The report details the environmental performance of 32 of the 40 law firm members of AusLSA.
In FY14, there was a 10 per cent reduction in total emissions from FY13. Despite more modest reductions in the three key performance areas of electricity (7 per cent), flights and travel (4 per cent) and paper (2 per cent), reporting firms were able to collectively achieve a double-digit reduction due to a 280 per cent increase in carbon offsets purchased by reporting firms. This reduced total carbon emissions by 20 per cent.
Electricity was the largest source of emissions (60 per cent), followed by business travel (38 per cent) and paper (2 per cent).
There was a 2 per cent decrease in the headcount of the 32 reporting firms, with an even greater headcount reduction of 9 per cent amongst the 8 executive member firms.
The executive member firms are Clayton Utz, DLA Piper, Maddocks, Henry Davis York, Jackson McDonald, McCullough Robertson, Norton Rose Fulbright and Swaab Attorneys.
Executive firm members including Henry Davis York and Norton Rose Fulbright rolled out formal redundancy programs in FY14, while some of the other firms, including McCullough Robertson, Clayton Utz and DLA Piper lost a number of junior and senior lawyers in the past financial year.
“The changing face of the legal marketplace in Australia has continued to provide challenging times for law firms,” Stuart Clark, chair of AusLSA and a senior partner at Clayton Utz, wrote in the report.
“Firms have had to adapt to these changes in order to keep their business models sustainable.”
The report also states that a decrease in travel is most likely attributed to a downturn in the legal market.
The bigger the firm, the bigger the footprint
Unsurprisingly, global firms in Australia were responsible for the greatest volumes of emissions.
Norton Rose Fulbright had the largest volume of gross emissions per head, with 8.70 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO₂e).
“International travel contributes significantly to the firm’s overall environmental impact and ways to reduce these impacts are being actively reviewed by the Environmental Sustainability Working Group,” said NRF in the report.
The next largest emitters were Ashurst (7.32 tCO₂e), Allens (6.36 tCO₂e), King & Wood Mallesons (5.73 tCO₂e) and Herbert Smith Freehills (5.56 tCO₂e).
Conversely, small firms showed the best performances, when measured by gross emissions per person. Coleman Greig, Cooper Grace Ward, McInnes Wilson Lawyers, Jackson McDonald and Hall & Wilcox were the lowest emitting firms based on this yardstick.
AusLSA has flagged that it will seek to broaden its agenda to include “other pillars of sustainability”, such as social and governance issues, in future reports.
Areas AusLSA is looking to provide data on in the future include pro bono work, diversity and inclusion, flexible work practices and mentoring.
The report was formally launched at the Sydney office of Norton Rose Fulbright on the evening of 4 December.
Even though 32 firms contributed to the analysis, two of those firms declined to publicly release the details of their environmental performance. AusLSA refused to divulge who those two firms were when approached by Lawyers Weekly.
The 30 AusLSA law firm members that publicly provided a breakdown of their environmental performance are:
Henry Davis York
Norton Rose Fulbright Australia
King & Wood Mallesons
Hall & Wilcox
Lander & Rogers
Hunt & Hunt
Cooper Grace Ward
Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Carroll & O’Dea
Wotton + Kearney
Herbert Smith Freehills
Gilbert + Tobin
Non-publicly reporting firms are:
Stacks, the Law Firm
Baker & McKenzie
Allen & Overy
Slater & Gordon