An Environmental Management System or EMS is a tool that enables organisations to reduce their environmental impacts and increase operating efficiency.

It is a systematic framework that manages the immediate and long-term environmental impacts of an organisation. This could include the products, services and processes that occur at any point within the infrastructure of that business. Using an EMS system, a company can measure and evaluate its performance in a methodical and cost-effective manner.

For most when they think about this, they immediately think of certain businesses that might be big polluters, but not necessarily think of how it applies to their own business. We want to show that every business can benefit from an EMS, and we can all limit our carbon footprint regardless of industry.

This week, we are looking at how an EMS can be a useful tool within the legal sector. We discussed the topic with several legal firms and made a working list of all their learning.

The benefits

The primary benefits that motivated firms to become compliant were direct cost savings. This is usually the main selling point, sustainability is cheaper so that is a good place the start.

This feeds into another part of the business which can also generate money – Client retention and attracting new clients. Sustainability is now a competitive issue, with many favouring businesses that use ethical business practices. It can be a great way to stand out from the crowd and show why your firm is the best choice.

Internally, the benefits of an EMS can help with 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. The environment is now an issue that transcends traditional work sectors, and as a result ‘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.

Sharing lessons

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, the top suggestions were – formal training and using the BS 8555 approach. Also, a simpler step-by-step process to ISO 14001 where each step is certified was requested.

This BS 8555 approach has been specially 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 one of the requirements of ISO 14001 certification.

The set-up of an environmental ‘green team’ made up of staff from all levels of the firm was a great tool. This helped enormously with implementation and communication. With this it was easier to get the staff involved, generate ideas and projects with ease and draw on multiple bases of knowledge.

Conclusion.

Overall, we saw a huge positive response, all were happy with the results. Many of whom were shocked by how easy and cost effective it was. They were also impressed by the knock-on benefits like client generation and the publicity the whole issue got. They are experiencing a new change in the work culture, where people want even their law firms to be more ethical… We are sure there is a joke in there somewhere.

By implementing an EMS your firm can make a dramatic difference to their own world, and the world around them. And if you do decide to go ahead with this transition – get in contact with Green Element today, we are here to help.

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.

 

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