Expert comment by William Richardson and Charlie Curtis, Green Element
Some of the top 20 UK law firms already have a formal accredited environmental management system (EMS) such as ISO 14001.
ISO 14001 is an internationally accepted standard established in 1996 that builds a framework for the conduct of environmental management. The EMS is a formulaic process, guided by a concise environmental policy covering regulatory compliance, objectives and targets for the prevention of pollution.
The standard is designed to address the delicate balance between maintaining profitability and reducing environmental impact; while building the commitment of the entire organisation. Ideally it should be externally verified by an accredited UKAS governing body.
The time and effort to implement an EMS is non-trivial, implementation lasts between six months and a year so each firm should understand the potential benefits and the effort needed to decide if and when to gain accreditation.
Green Element was asked by the LSA to talk to several firms to find out what benefits they have achieved and thoughts on best practice for the implementation process.
The primary benefits that motivated firms to become compliant were: direct cost savings; client attraction and retention; staff retention, motivation and recruitment; and generating a positive public environmental image.
One common theme was that financial and environmental benefits exceeded firms’ expectations. This was due in part to conservative business cases, and to the effective monitoring process inherent in ISO 14001 driving better performance, but it was also down to the greater than expected support and engagement of staff in the initiatives to reduce waste and emissions.
A firm’s environmental credentials are becoming increasingly important in client buying criteria, and ISO 14001 accreditation allows potential and current clients to very quickly gauge a firm’s environmental performance.
‘We’re being asked by clients more and more have you got an EMS? And is it accredited?’, says Claire Goody of Eversheds.
Another firm we spoke to - although investing heavily in its sustainability agenda and achieving good outcomes - acknowledged it had to work much harder to convince target clients of its environmental credentials in the absence of an externally certified accreditation.
On implementation, firms acknowledged that the EMS is only as good as the team carrying out the process. Some invested in building the internal capability through training or recruitment and some used external expertise - a pay-off between cost, results and retention of skills. Most teams were small with one or two key people doing the bulk of the work.
When asked what lessons were learnt and what would the law firm do differently next time, formal training and using the BS8555 approach, a step by step process to ISO14001 where each step is certified, were the top suggestions. This BS8555 approach has been especially developed for small to medium enterprises who wish to demonstrate their commitment to the environment, but without initially having to implement a full blown environmental management system. This reduces both costs and time. The approach adopted by the BS 8555 enables organisations to develop their environmental system in phases and at their own pace.
It was also unanimously advised to have the authority and support of senior management. Having the support of an organisation’s senior individual is a stipulation of 14001.
Two more tips were: firstly to set up an environmental ‘green group’, made up of staff from all levels of the firm - this helped enormously with generating buy in for implementation; and secondly, seek help. The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), for example, is a not-for-profit membership organisation established to promote best practice standards in EMS.
In conclusion, it is imperative to understand the amount of time and resources needed to implement an EMS. Be realistic and consider the BS8555 option. Be clear on objectives for an EMS and survey staff to understand what levels of support you are starting from. Build a ‘green team’ with both the authority and enthusiasm to implement actions. Make sure the senior partner is behind the project, at least as the face of the EMS.
And finally, get help - there is a great deal of information in journals, books, magazine articles and on the internet that will assist you on implementing an efficient EMS.
We would like to thank the following LSA member firms for their help in compiling this article: Allen & Overy, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Linklaters, Taylor Wessing, Travers Smith.
William Richardson and Charlie Curtis, Green Element
William has worked as consultant for Green Element for six years on a variety of environmental projects specialising in ISO14001 and BS 8555. In addition to working as a consultant helping companies install environmental management systems, he audits for AJA Registrars on both ISO14001 and BS 8555, and lectures at the University of Hertfordshire on the MSc Environmental Management for Business.
Charlie is a sustainable business consultant with 12 years experience implementing performance improvement projects and conducting strategic planning in the corporate, academic and legal sectors. You can download the article here; Legal Sector Alliance Article
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