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Legally green: Meet the firms revealing their carbon footprints

Legally green: Meet the firms revealing their carbon footprints

A pioneering group of Australian firms have taken the bold step of revealing their carbon footprint as the legal industry moves towards becoming eco-friendly. Briana Everett reports

A pioneering group of Australian firms have taken the bold step of revealing their carbon footprint as the legal industry moves towards becoming eco-friendly. Briana Everett reports

Green firms: How eco-friendly is your firm?
Australia's first ever report on the environmental consumption of law firms was released last week in an effort to raise awareness and collectively improve the environmental impact of the Australian legal industry.

Produced by the newly formed sustainability association - the Australian Legal Sector Alliance (AusLSA) - the report, Environmental Consumption of AusLSA Members 2009/2010, revealed the carbon footprint of AusLSA's eight founding executive members, providing a transparent baseline for future sustainability initiatives.

Officially launched by the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull MP, the report exposed the carbon emissions of Clayton Utz, DLA Phillips Fox, Henry Davis York, Jackson McDonald, Maddocks, McCullough Robertson, Norton Rose Australia and Swaab Attorneys.

"The publication of this report demonstrates a significant commitment by the AusLSA executive members," said Terence Jeyaretnam, the director of sustainability advisory firm Net Balance.

"In Australia, very few law firms have taken the bold step of publicly reporting their environmental footprint. By holding themselves accountable in this way, the AusLSA executive members should be commended for their courage and leadership in working together for the collective good."

As expected, electricity was the main source of emissions, with the average electricity consumption of alliance members coming in at 3.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per employee.

Coming in second was business travel, contributing to 30.6 per cent of all emissions and not surprisingly, there was substantial variance between firms, with those firms operating more than one office reporting proportionally more emissions from business travel.

Flights, in all but one firm, were responsible for over 90 per cent of travel-related emissions, standing in contrast to the UK where flights account for about 7 per cent of all emissions. According to the report, this comparison reflects the increased use of carbon-intensive forms of transport such as trains, which is a more effective means of transport in the UK given its geography.

Given the amount of inter-office travel that occurs at law firms, the report identified this as a "quick win" area for firms looking to reduce their footprint and travel expenditures through the use of technology and planning.

In addition to electricity and travel, the report also covered the paper consumption of firms, revealing that despite new technologies available such as iPads, the legal sector is still a heavy consumer of paper.

Paper consumption results varied significantly between firms, from 80.73kg to 178.1kg per employee, highlighting a key area of improvement for some member firms.

On average, 126 kilograms of paper is consumed by each employee every year by each member firm, with Perth-based firm Jackson McDonald consuming the most per employee.

The Honourable Malcom Turnbull MP officially launches the Australian Legal Sector Alliance (AusLSA) in Martin Place, Sydney, on March 29.

DLA Phillips Fox, which has just under 1000 employees across Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Melborune and Perth came in with emissions of 4,751.87 tonnes, Norton Rose measured 4,775.32 tonnes, while Henry Davis York performed relatively well with 1,422 tonnes and 80kg of paper consumed by each employee.

As the only top-tier firm to join the alliance so far, Clayton Utz unsurprisingly topped the list with the most carbon emissions, totalling 10,489.44 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

With offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth and Darwin, and over 1800 employees, flights represented almost 30 per cent of those emissions, while the firm's paper consumption was 109.9kg per employee.

"Our reasons for being involved, even though we're going to be seen as having the biggest footprint, is because it's important to our staff, it's important to our clients and it's important to our community," Stuart Clark, Clayton Utz's chief operating officer explained.

"The challenges of a large law firm are huge. We have huge amounts of travel for clients. We've got the challenge of being involved in huge matters. The consumption of paper is very large - much larger than some other practices."

While Clayton Utz aims to reduce its business travel and paper consumption where possible through the use of technology, the Sydney office is soon relocating to 1 Bligh Street - a six star green rated office building.

"The biggest thing we're going to do - the game changer - is moving into the six star building. It's designed from the ground-up to be sustainable and have low energy consumption. It has a central atrium and the building is double-skinned."

Clark said the new office will help the firm save 100,000 litres of fresh water every day and will reduce their emissions by 42 per cent thanks to the building's double-skin glass façade.

"Our reasons for being involved, even though we're going to be seen as having the biggest footprint, is because it's important to our staff, it's important to our clients and it's important to our community,"

Stuart Clark, Clayton Utz's chief operating officer

Listing the significant changes the firm has committed to making, Clark urged other firms, particularly other members of the top-tier, to take the leap and come on board.

"We're disappointed that more of the major firms haven't stepped up and said, 'Okay, well we have the same issues, what are we doing about it?'" Clark said.

"This is about sharing knowledge, sharing best practice and using that knowledge to help each other reduce consumption by regular, steady steps."

At last week's launch, AusLSA co-chair and Henry Davis York chief operating officer Kelvin O'Connor reminded members of the legal profession that the report is aimed at reducing the impact of firms in a collaborative fashion and should not be turned into a league table.

Instead, he said the alliance's aim is to capture and disclose data and reduce the impact of the legal industry as a whole, noting the importance of measuring to manage.

Also attending the launch was the manager of the AusLSA's UK equivalent - the Legal Sector Alliance of England and Wales - Micael Johnstone, who emphasised the effectiveness of collaboration, evidenced by its 200 plus members.

Calling for greater participation from Australian firms, Johnstone highlighted the greater capacity for knowledge-sharing to drive change through collaboration, revealing the massive reductions made by UK firms such as Hogan Lovells, which has reduced its footprint by 30 per cent.

Motivated by the work of the UK and now Australia, the Legal Sector Alliance is now making its way to the United States.

"We are now seeing the spread of the same concept in the United States. We're really excited that three of the major New York and Boston firms are getting on board with the USA LSA," Clark said.

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