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Professional services: seven steps to sustainability

From reducing their carbon footprint to implementing fairer hiring polices, there are a number of measures that lawyers and accountants can take to boost their sustainability credentials.

From concerns over climate change to issues such as diversity and inclusion, senior management’s focus can no longer be totally on the bottom line. And while firms in the professional services are less likely to make the kind of environmental impact that manufacturers or logistics businesses can, there are still a number of opportunities for such organisations to act more responsibly. Indeed, their clients as well as their current and potential staff – not to mention the wider public – are increasingly likely to demand that they do so.

Many businesses in professional services already have clearly stated ESG (environmental, social and governance) policies and targets. So how can the likes of lawyers and accountants improve their performance in these areas? Here’s a seven-point checklist.

1. Reduce your energy usage

“The professional services sector is not a highly polluting industry – we don’t have machines that make widgets and pump out lots of smoke and chemicals,” says Tim Carter, corporate relationship director at Lombard. “But this doesn’t mean that environmental impact should not be on the agenda of risks that are going to affect your firm.

“We firmly believe this is something you should be getting ahead of the curve on: remember, your business will be judged by the court of public opinion.”

A good place to start is by carrying out an energy audit to see where power is being wasted or used unnecessarily in your organisation, Carter adds.

“We did this in our organisation a couple of years ago, and we found that we were particularly bad at turning lights off: now all of our office lighting has motion sensors fitted.”

As well as reducing electricity bills, this means that a firm’s offices no longer risk the public-relations misstep of being seen with their lights on all night, says Carter.

One area that we have been extremely keen to improve is the firm’s carbon and environmental impact. Over the last couple of years we have reduced business flights by 75%

Gerhard Grueter
Managing director, Lawson Conner
2. Assess your carbon footprint

Gerhard Grueter, managing director at Lawson Conner, says that sustainability and environmental impact are key considerations across all business activity at his firm. “One area that we have been extremely keen to improve is the firm’s carbon and environmental impact,” he says. “Over the last couple of years we have reduced business flights by 75%. In addition, the business now has a ‘one person’ international travel policy: this process significantly reduces environmental impact and helps to avoid unnecessary additional air pollution as a result.”

Lawson Conner has also moved towards a more virtual approach to meetings, taking advantage of conference and video call facilities to reduce its carbon footprint.

3. Consider sustainable finance

Jonathan Eady, director of global loan capital markets at the bank, says that the growth in popularity of sustainable finance options gives professional service businesses the opportunity to align their own and their clients’ ESG goals with their funding.

“Sustainability-linked loans are any types of loan facilities which incentivise the borrower’s achievement of predetermined sustainability performance objectives, such as ESG scores or CO2 emissions,” Eady explains.

“There is a lot of empirical evidence that companies which are aware of their ESG issues are a lower credit risk – therefore we are comfortable as a bank in passing on some of those benefits to clients.”

But the main reason businesses choose this form of finance tends not to be the cost, he adds. “You would do this because it helps to tie in your commitment to ESG issues into financing – and it puts those issues at the forefront of your business.”

4. Take an intelligent approach to waste

While professional services firms may not have the same level of reliance on plant and machinery as businesses in sectors like manufacturing or construction, there is still scope for them to reduce the environmental impact of their old equipment, Carter says.

“In the past, a lot of those assets – such as laptops, desktops, screens and servers – have gone straight through the shredder for security reasons and into landfill,” he explains. “What we are doing now is disposing of any assets returned to us in a sustainable way: this means we carry out a military-grade data wipe and then try to find the equipment a new home. Failing that, we break down the items into what we call clean waste – piles of copper wiring or high-grade aluminium, for example, that can be used to make new equipment.”

5. Embrace the benefits of diversity

Joe Woodbury, director of investment management solutions at legal firm Lawson Conner, says his business believes it should lead by example when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

“We have a clear vision: to be the place where a diverse mix of talented people want to come, to stay and to do their best,” he explains. “Diversity has an invaluable influence on how we work together and how we develop as an organisation: we actively encourage diverse backgrounds and experiences as we believe it drives more unique ideas and solutions for our clients.”

6. Share the benefit of your knowledge

Klara Kozlov, head of corporate clients at the Charities Aid Foundation, says that the likes of law firms and accountants can bolster their sustainability credentials by sharing expertise.

“Pro bono and skills sharing with charities, organisations or even individuals in need capitalises on existing expertise and also automatically includes employees in their sustainability goals,” she explains. “It sets an example from the top and also reinforces the firm’s values both with their own teams and with the recipients of their pro bono services.”

For legal firms, Kozlov adds, this might involve taking on human rights cases. “We are also seeing management consultancies marshalling their expertise to produce in-depth work into examining the drivers – and barriers – to social mobility, for example, and also doing important research into social entrepreneurship and diversity.”

7. Communicate your achievements

As well as implementing the kinds of measures outlined above, it is important for businesses to share their achievements with stakeholders such as staff, clients and even competing firms, Kozlov says.

“Businesses can work together to create a reporting mechanism for sustainability initiatives, which would also allow for better informed conversations across peers and other industries,” she explains. Firms can also consider setting up high-profile partnerships with the likes of charities and other community organisations. “Firms with a large presence in a specific community benefit from a higher profile among not just employees who live locally, but also clients, suppliers and the general public.”

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