The collaborative spirit: in-house counsel and ESG

The collaborative spirit: in-house counsel and ESG

‘We are all in this together,’ says Jane Pittaway, Executive Vice-Chair at Lawyers for Net Zero. ‘We need to collaborate and work together to deliver the solutions we need.’ Meaningful action on climate change requires a collaborative spirit, across the economy across different industries, and, importantly, each and every business. No one team, certainly no one individual, can do it all. But businesses that collaborate can make meaningful change.

In-house counsel are in a great position to bring teams and people together to collaborate, engaging different parts of the business and developing a collaborative mindset. A report from LexisNexis, for example, shows that in-house counsel possess a wide view of their organisation, avoiding the siloed view that can hamper particular teams. Nichola Robinson of Calea UK substantiates that point: ‘[In-house counsel] are uniquely placed to be able to support the business on its sustainability journey. [They] can have an impact, are part of the highest level of the business and have that unique view of the whole of the business.’

In this article, we discuss exactly how in-house counsel can promote collaboration to improve sustainability, with reference to knowledge sharing, strategising, communicating, and more.

Building and sharing knowledge

Participants of the report, Implementing the E of ESG, stressed the value gained by engaging in conversations with customers, suppliers, and stakeholders. In-house counsel should retrieve knowledge from outside their organisation and purposefully build that knowledge, which will allow them to spot opportunities they can implement inside their organisation.

In-house counsel should attend webinars or training courses, even join external groups, perhaps create an open forum between organisations. They should stay up to date with ESG trends, keep abreast of legal developments, and broadly build knowledge in any possible way. In simple terms, in-house counsel should build knowledge externally and share internally.

Putting in place a strategy

Knowledge sharing ensures individuals or teams that want to get involved can rely on others and others can rely on them. One way to ensure that happens is creating an ESG strategy.

Organisations that are further along the ESG journey may want to publish company-wide sustainability targets in their strategy and ensure the strategy is shared across the organisation. That level of detail is not necessary for all organisations, but some level of strategy should be shared to improve transparency and accountability. Neil Dodds at Arco echoes that sentiment in the LexisNexis report: ‘Once you start publishing your journey in terms of where you are and where you want to be, you start holding yourself to account.’

Strategy is a great place to consolidate progress, practice transparency, invite collaboration, and encourage input from across the organisation. It also provides common objectives that everyone shares, which promotes collaboration by instilling a strong sense of ownership.

Encourage involvement and interaction

The LexisNexis report showed that the development of a collaborative mindset vastly improved the ability to effect real change. A collaborative mindset requires involvement from myriad parties, all under a common goal. In-house counsel should encourage such involvement. That might mean establishing steering groups and committees, or lobbying for the expansion of the remit of a team to allow greater focus on ESG and sustainability.

Another possible route to increasing involvement is to create online or in-person forums, where people can bring ideas, brainstorm, and broadly become active in fighting climate change. There are plenty of communication and collaboration tools that allow such forms of interaction and in-house lawyers should play a key role in pushing that interaction.

Providing guidance to departments

In-house counsel can also provide support to various teams across the organisation. That means developing openness wherever needed. And there are ample opportunities.  

In-house counsel could set up climate clauses in contracts that people across the organisation could use when working with third parties. In-house counsel could, for example, take full advantage of the freely available Chancery Lane Project clauses to put requirements around ESG into supplier contracts, ensuring supplier sustainability in the long-term.

In-house counsel could also offer guidance to marketing and PR teams. In-house counsel could perhaps provide formal training on terminology, sustainability mapping, transparency and accountability, and any other areas that may cause problems.

Guidance should ensure companies avoid greenwashing. Avoiding greenwashing should start early, with clear instructions to marketing and PR to prioritise fair representation of climate actions, climate policies, and products. 

In conclusion, in-house counsel can drive collaboration through various means. They can build and share knowledge, create a strategy, promote interaction and communication, and they can offer support to each and every team that needs additional expertise and support.

Our Sustainable Business Toolkit is a great start for in-house counsel looking for practical resources on sustainable business issues. The toolkit includes advice and information on various practice areas such as competition, environment and finance with over 100 practice notes and checklists at your disposal. Using this content, practitioners will be able to advise businesses on what sustainability means for their undertaking, help them to identify what they should be doing and how to measure impact, and explain how they can maximise opportunities and minimise risks.

Looking for practical guidance to decrease risk and increase efficiency? Try LexisPSL for free for 7 days, fill out the sign-up form below.

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