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Green Practice: From small seeds, big things grow

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(9) LIJ, p. 83

Before you can reduce your carbon footprint, you need to know how big it is.

The LIV is leading the way in measuring its footprint by undertaking a greenhouse gas inventory.

The LIV is compiling a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory of its operations.

The knowledge it gains from this inventory will be used to promote the uptake of sustainability objectives within the legal industry.

A GHG inventory is more than an energy audit, which involves counting each energy consuming item in your business, quantifying the energy it consumes (based on average use) and identifying problem areas.

Although the Net Balance Foundation
(http://www.netbalancefoundation.org) is assisting the LIV with the collection of data for the inventory and the calculation of the LIV’s carbon footprint, a GHG inventory is not a difficult exercise to undertake.

First, it involves taking stock of the various resources used by the firm that have the potential to produce GHG emissions. These may include energy use, air-conditioning, refrigeration, waste disposal, road/rail/air travel etc.

Once a list of potential sources has been compiled, the next step is to collect available consumption data. This can be easily achieved through reviewing invoices and firm records.

The federal government Department of Climate Change gives guidance on how to calculate GHG emissions from this consumption data.

Essentially, this three-step process of identification, measurement and calculation allows you to work out your carbon footprint.

An organisation’s carbon footprint is a measure of the GHG emissions that it emits, both directly and indirectly, as a result of its operations.

These are then further broken down into Scopes:

  • Scope 1: direct GHG emissions that are emitted within the organisation’s physical boundary, including business related travel in company vehicles, natural gas or LPG use, HFC leakage from refrigeration and air-conditioning systems;
  • Scope 2: indirect GHG emissions that are emitted beyond the organisation’s physical boundary, including purchased electricity and heat;
  • Scope 3: other indirect GHG emissions emitted outside of the organisation’s physical boundary, including air travel, taxis, car hire, travel to and from work, base building electricity, waste, outsourced activities such as shipping, courier services and printing services etc.

GHG inventories commonly include all Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions as a starting point. Scope 3 emissions are generally included where information is readily available, or they are set as targets for inclusion in carbon footprint calculations in future years (to encourage continuous improvement).

The LIV has included Scope 1, Scope 2 and limited Scope 3 in its carbon footprint calculation, and is currently looking at how it can further set targets to expand its Scope 3 reporting into the future.

The benefits of a GHG inventory

You can’t manage until you measure.

Creating a GHG inventory is the first step to becoming a sustainable firm in the long term. It provides the data necessary to set objectives, avoid high emissions behaviour, reduce energy consumption, switch to more sustainable alternatives and assess and improve performance.

In the short term, creating a GHG inventory and managing your emissions also has immediate operational cost savings and reputational benefits.

Having specific and detailed data makes it easy to identify and remedy the problem of wasted energy and resources, which leads directly to an immediate saving of money.

Some of the easy steps recommended by the Net Balance Foundation to the LIV include encouraging changes to employee behaviour in relation to waste generation and energy use, upgrading to more efficient lighting systems, and water and electricity timers.

Although this will have some upfront cost, the efficiency initiatives will save the LIV money in the short and long term.

In addition, raising awareness of the carbon cost of doing business engages staff in solving the problem.

Employee motivation leads to a better uptake of waste reduction initiatives, ranging from switching off lights and computers to reducing printing and stationery consumption more care in events planning.

These early actions will pay dividends in the medium term when businesses have to absorb the price on carbon created by the federal government’s emissions trading scheme.

In terms of reputation, organisations will be judged by their actions, not just their statements, on sustainability commitment and performance.

Putting together a GHG inventory and developing a plan to manage your emissions signals to both clients and prospective employees that your firm is a sustainable and forward looking choice.

LIV president Tony Burke said it was “important to know about our own greenhouse gas emissions so that we can advocate to others the value of this project”.

“The LIV leads the profession and enjoys a respected position in the broader community. It is an active participant in the broader debate about community and its protection. In that role it is appropriate that we make ourselves accountable by reference to criteria such as our own impact on the environment. It is clear that knowing exactly where we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in particular by reducing our energy consumption, will be a major policy focus for the whole country over the next few decades and so we are keen to have a practical, as well as a theoretical, understanding of the issue.

“We can do more to stop generating emissions, and the LIV is keen to hear how this can be practically applied to our own business,” Mr Burke said.

Useful websites

For more on greenhouse gas inventory and carbon management, see:

ALEXANDRA PALK is an LIV Young Lawyers’ Section (YLS) member. This column is coordinated by the YLS. For more information on the YLS, see http://www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/younglawyers.

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