WITH PRESSURE coming from all sides for firms to be conscious of the environment, some are now taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint.
There is little doubt that climate change is emerging as an increasingly popular niche area of the law, with law firms playing a growing role in advising clients on projects and initiatives designed to reduce their environmental impact.
Like their clients, employees too are increasingly concerned about the environmental performance of the firms in which they work. With the pressure on, firms are seriously considering the benefits of reducing their own impact on the environment.
Brendan Turner, a principal legal consultant at Link Recruitment, said that one question he’s seen candidates asking, particularly from within generation Y, is “how is the firm going to reduce its carbon footprint?” The carbon footprint is the total amount of direct and indirect greenhouse gases produced over the lifecycle of the firm.
“The carbon footprint is a bit of a hot topic at the moment so firms need to be prepared at the interview to be able to respond to these sorts of questions,” Turner said.
The recruitment agency says that firms being ahead of the field in this area can influence a candidate’s overall impression. “The candidate might want to go to a particular firm, not because they want to save the world, but because its also good business sense to go with a company that is likely to adapt to changes in public perception.”
At Allens Arthur Robinson, the weight of its footprint on the environment is taken seriously. James Walker, national manager for corporate affairs at the firm, and the convenor of the firm’s footprint committee agreed questions regarding the firm’s sustainability policies “are one of the primary questions that recruits ask”.
“This does play a role in how the firm is viewed by those candidates,” he said.
Minter Ellison’s national director of pro bono and community investment, Anton Hermann, said candidates are very interested in the firm’s carbon reduction policies. “[But] to say this translates into a decision about where they choose to work I think is a bit of a stretch”.
However, Hermann agreed the carbon reduction initiatives that have been implemented by Minter Ellison have been at least partially driven by prospective employees’ growing interest in the area.
“I think what candidates are actually expressing to us is a desire to match their own personal values with the values of the firm and one of the factors is whether the firm is environmentally responsible. We’re certainly active in that space and we are driven to some extent by the expectations of our staff and potential new staff.”
Both Minter Ellison and Allens Arthur Robinson, have taken action in the area. Minter Ellison has signed up to measure and report its total emissions under the Australian Government’s Greenhouse Challenge Plus and it has implemented a number of carbon reduction initiatives as part of this.
According to Hermann, as of July this year the firm has been using 60 per cent GreenPower-accredited electricity and it has implemented automatic shutdown of all computers after hours. He says that the firm recorded a 9.5 per cent reduction in total emissions for the 2006 calendar year. “In 2007, particularly with the green power investment, we’ll see that come down very, very significantly,” he said.
Allens also moved to using 75 per cent GreenPower-accredited electricity approximately three months ago in its Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne offices. Walker said the firm has already reduced its emissions by approximately 30—40 per cent in that period across those offices.
Other firms, including Corrs Chambers Westgarth, are also taking the issue seriously. A spokesperson at Corrs said the firm has conducted a life cycle assessment of its greenhouse gases and is currently in the process of establishing an environmental management committee to investigate the best way of reducing the firm’s carbon footprint.
Link Recruitment’s Turner suggested carbon neutrality might be next on the agenda for law firms. That is, firms offsetting their emissions by purchasing carbon credits so that on balanced they produce zero emissions. Hermann said Minter Ellison’s “long term goal is to head towards carbon neutrality … [but] it has not made a specific commitment on that yet”. Walker said it’s also something that is being “actively considered” at Allens.
However, it appears that not everyone has the environment as number one priority. Having been told at the Allens Arthur Robinson stall at the Sydney Law Careers Fair about the firm’s initiatives in the area, a student was overheard saying to his friend: “Yeah, so they’re green, but how much are they going to pay us?”