Net Zero and climate change: 10 practical ways in-house counsel can make a difference

Net Zero and climate change: 10 practical ways in-house counsel can make a difference

On 21st July we hosted our monthly session for in-house counsel, in collaboration with Flex legal, Radius Law and Crafty Counsel. We were delighted to welcome Adam Woodall from Lawyers for Net Zero to chair the session, alongside our panellists Stephanie Beat, Head of Legal and Compliance at Certas Energy and Fiona Penhallurick, General Counsel at Birmingham Airport.

Together they shared their views on the role in-house counsel can play in creating impactful climate action, their experiences in driving climate action within their businesses, the risks around greenwashing and their top tips for making a change.

At the heart – a personal topic

As always, we asked participants for their input on the topic, using Slido polls. Our first poll revealed an emotive urgency on the topic of climate change as participants shared how they currently feel on this topical issue: 

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The real question is “How?”

Delving deeper into the topic, our second poll was incredibly telling. For many participants there was an understanding of the critical nature of why climate change needs to be on Board agendas. Further, the far majority were keen to make a difference. 96% of participants stated that they think in-house lawyers have a rile in helping their organisations achieve Net Zero. 93% believed that they personally could have a role in helping their organisation take climate action. 

However, overwhelming the challenge that came to the forefront was the need for deeper understanding of ‘how’ climate change can be addressed in practical terms from the perspective of legal departments. What role should in-house lawyers play? What actions should you be taking? 

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A community of in-house lawyers delivering climate action

Adam kicked off the discussion by introducing Lawyers for Net Zero. He explained the importance of taking action and set out the following steps, which Lawyers for Net Zero focus on:

  • convening a community of like-minded individuals (convene)
  • creating specific guidance—for example net zero action principles (focus)
  • assembling action learning groups, which are a three-month commitment (momentum)

Adam emphasised the significant role that in-house counsel can play in making an impact on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) within their businesses – from helping their organisations guard against greenwashing to supporting them achieve legitimate Net Zero – describing in-house lawyers as the ‘moral compass of the business’.

He highlighted that legal are in a unique, influential – and powerful position in the organisation. In-house lawyers are always ‘in the room’ when big decision are made, particularly when regulations, new projects, risks and compliance are considered. Legal also help provide the legal licence to operate as much of business relies on legal contracts. Further, importantly legal are often the ‘go-to’ advisors on a broad range of issues far beyond the pure legal matters. 

6 ways to champion Net Zero and drive change within your organisation

Our panellists supported the description of in-house counsel as the ‘moral compass of the business’, highlighting their own personal experiences of being able to influence the company’s strategy in relation to ESGs.

Stephanie and Fiona provided the following 6 valuable action points to consider when starting out:

  1. Increase your own understanding—the first key step in taking up the net zero mantle in your organisation is to improve your own understanding of net zero. To learn more about sustainability, Net Zero and all related ESG topics, use LexisPSL’s Sustainable Business Toolkit, which offers a wide range of materials to expand your knowledge and understanding
  2. Look at initiatives already in place—it is important to learn about what is already being done at your organisation. Go out and find out who the key stakeholders are, what initiatives are already out there and who is responsible for them
  3. Reach out to people—following on from the above, Stephanie suggested that people are keen to get involved and by reaching out to colleagues you will likely learn more and find that people are already doing things to drive progress forward. In situations where many separate groups are working on different aspects of Net Zero within your organisation, it might be that the value you bring will be in joining these groups together to create more momentum and synergy. Invite yourselves to meetings, utilise your network and bounce ideas off each other
  4. Get involved with Lawyers for Net Zero—both Stephanie and Fiona described the benefits of joining Lawyers for Net Zero. Stephanie told us that being a part of this initiative, particularly part of the Action Learning Groups, encourages you to commit to the programme and take practical action every week. It is also a fantastic way to raise your own profile and expand your network. To find out more about Lawyers for Net Zero and how you can get involved, simply get in touch here
  5. Share your thoughts and challenges with others—it is likely that others have come across similar issues before, so talking about your challenges with peers and colleagues might help uncover interesting solutions!
  6. Learn about The Chancery Lane Project clausesThe Chancery Lane Project is a group of lawyers working pro-bono to create the legal conditions to fight climate change, by finding practical legal solutions in the form of model laws and clauses to be wired into legal agreements. The project has published 71 model clauses, 47 glossary entries and 10 model laws. Find the clauses relevant to your organisation and start implementing them into your contracts

Greenwashing and role of in-house counsel

When posed with a question about guarding against greenwashing, both Fiona and Stephanie emphasised the importance of the issue. Fiona told us that it is too simplistic to categorise companies as good or bad. Such categorisation can be off-putting and the fear of being deemed to be greenwashing can slow down change within an organisation. Given the high-profile nature of greenwashing, it is a key strategic risk for any business and Stephanie believes that guarding against greenwashing is certainly a job for the lawyers. As in-house counsel, it is therefore important to ensure that sustainability remains or is placed at the heart of the business’s strategy.

4 top tips to making a difference:

  1. Ask questions internally and learn who is doing what—it is always great to start with the marketing team
  2. Find out whether Net Zero is being discussed at board level—given that this poses a key risk for the business, it is important to understand the priorities of the board
  3. Help to increase visibility of Net Zero within your organisation
  4. Take small steps every day—this can be a quick conversation about sustainability, reading an article to improve your knowledge or connecting with someone on LinkedIn

Regular steps towards achieving net zero will add up to make a big difference over time. As Fiona put it, ‘taking some action leads to further action’.

LexisPSL – supporting you make a difference by making the ‘how’ easier

LexisPSL’s Sustainable Business Toolkit has been created for in-house counsel to support legal teams navigate the broad range of sustainability issues.  From the environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria affecting investment decisions, to mandatory corporate reporting on energy consumption and to supply chain sustainability issues.

The toolkit provides practical guidance on identifying what legal teams should be doing, how you should be doing it and how you can minimise risk. It contains over 100 practice notes and handy checklists written by industry leading practitioners covering 15 areas of law - all collated into a single interactive hub.

Key topics include: Competition, Energy efficiency – buildings and undertakings, Human rights, Reporting and disclosure and Supply chain management.

Not a LexisPSL subscriber? To try LexisPSL for free for 7 days, fill out the sign-up form here.  

Helpful starter guidance:

In-house lawyers: sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting

Supply chain sustainability

Environmental claims in advertising

Keeping up the momentum

The conversation continues over on our Slack channel, where you can share thoughts with your in-house peers and access more information related to the role of in-house lawyers and tackling Net Zero. 



Upcoming Senior Counsel event

Join us for the next dedicated session for in house counsel: Disrupted or accelerated? Digital transformation in legal teams

Wednesday 22nd September

10:00 – 11:00

Register today

Covid-19 showed how an agile in-house team can be a competitive advantage for a business. Yet did the pandemic accelerate or disrupt digital transformation in legal teams? In this session, we explore the issues that deserve deeper consideration on the topic of legal tech.

How are other legal teams using technology to increase productivity, reduce risk and collect meaningful data to demonstrate their value? Is there just a shift from legal tech to enterprise tech? What should you expect from your law firms in relation to use of technology to improve efficiency and reduce costs? What practical strategies can be used in implementing an effective change management initiative?


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About the author:
Anna is a paralegal in the LexisPSL Hub. She graduated with a degree in English and Australian law from King’s College London University, where she took part in several pro bono initiatives, such as the Legal Outreach and Street law, was an elected officer to the executive committee of the KCL Law Society and worked as a student advisor in the KCL Student Legal Clinic. Anna initially started at LexisNexis as a Student Associate and later joined as a paralegal.