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Green practice: Switched on firms switch off

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Cite as: December 2013 87 (12) LIJ, p.83

The latest report from the Australian Legal Sector Alliance on environmental impact suggests member firms are making a difference. 

The Australian Legal Sector Alliance (AusLSA) represents 45 Australian law firms (and nearly 20 per cent of the sector) that are committed to promoting sustainable practices. Its members are encouraged to report on the environmental impacts of their operations using a set of standardised metrics in the areas of: electricity use; greenhouse gas emissions from business travel; paper use; the provision of recycling facilities; and carbon offsetting.

AusLSA has just published the fourth annual report on the environmental performance of AusLSA members which includes the profiles of 27 law firms.

The AusLSA report found that:

Electricity use is decreasing

The use of electricity is still the single biggest source of emissions for members, but is decreasing on a per-head basis. On average, 2.92 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (t CO2e) were emitted for each staff member from firms’ electricity use during financial year 2013.

Firms have achieved emissions reductions through initiatives such as installing more energy-efficient lighting and IT equipment and by encouraging more energy-efficient behaviours by staff (such as shutting down computers overnight).

Emissions from business travel are levelling off after steep increases

Emissions from business travel (primarily flights) show signs of steadying and even reducing among the main cohort of reporting firms. Average travel emissions per head for 2013 were 1.93 t CO2e.

International firms tend to have much higher emissions from air travel than single-state firms, but there are significant variations in travel patterns and emissions even among this group. Firms are encouraged to eliminate, substitute or combine business trips to reduce emissions from this source.

Paper use is decreasing

On average, firms reported using nearly 122kg of paper per employee in 2013. This has decreased by around 2 per cent since last year and 14 per cent since 2010. There are still significant variations between firms’ paper consumption, indicating there is room for greater efficiency in paper use across the sector.

Carbon offsetting has slowed

While the commitment to carbon offsetting by AusLSA members has increased year on year, interest in offsetting has slowed. Eleven out of 31 firms offset their carbon emissions in 2013.

This declining interest in offsetting may be related to an increasing focus on cost savings or to the introduction of the carbon price, which altered the incentives for voluntary carbon offsetting in Australia by putting a price on all carbon emissions.

The AusLSA report indicates that Australian law firms are focusing more on corporate sustainability and are making progress in reducing their operational impacts. Firms that have a champion or leader in this area achieve the greatest improvements.

What next?

The foundation members carefully considered AusLSA’s mission when establishing the organisation and agreed on “promoting sustainability”. Since launching in 2011, the focus has been on environmental sustainability however a broader sustainability agenda has always been the objective.

The AusLSA executive members are investigating how to expand the program to include social sustainability issues such as diversity, wellbeing and community engagement and determining how AusLSA can enhance the social sustainability reporting and programs in which Australian law firms already participate. The aim is to develop the reporting framework to facilitate the collation of members’ corporate responsibility profiles. A consultation process with AusLSA members will ensure that changes to the program are relevant, valuable and add to the current legal sector corporate responsibility landscape.

Contact AusLSA if you would like to participate at info@legalsectoralliance.com.au. The report is available at www.legalsector alliance.com.au/Reporting

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