It is easy for lawyers to see ourselves as relatively innocent in the global contribution to climate change. Our increasingly paperless offices and service rather than manufacturing or industrial offering means even the biggest firms simply aren't up there with the heavily polluting industries. This can lead to a mistaken sense that as humble lawyers, there isn't much we can do.
One person who hasn't underestimated the powers held by general counsel in particular, is Prince Charles. Rightly, he points out here that investors increasingly demand information on how sustainability performance affects organisations' strategy, business model and bottom line. "General counsel has an absolutely crucial role to play in ensuring that the quality of information meets these increasing demands".
Analysis of the last few months has shown that businesses who have displayed more resilience, and have therefore suffered less as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, are those which have upheld sustainability as a core business principle. General counsel are instrumental here again; they often form part of executive board decision making and strategy, they are usually responsible for procurement processes and contracts, and importantly, they advise the companies they work for about risk.
Climate change is the greatest risk faced by all modern businesses. This may arise in the form of litigation holding the company accountable for mitigating its emissions, in the form of reduced investor interest due to demands for sustainability, or even in the form of droughts/floods/pandemics which affect the workforce. In-house lawyers simply cannot ignore the climate change risks in playing their important role to help their companies minimise risks and plan for the future.
Legal cases seeking to hold businesses and governments to account are becoming more prevalent... General counsel's role in helping companies demonstrate that they are seriously working towards mitigating climate impact could play an important part in helping to manage the risks from current and future litigation