May Program Recap: Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability

In May, Pamela Cone, Milliman Global Social Responsibility Officer and Amity Advisory Founder & CEO, joined LMA Northwest for a program on corporate social responsibility and sustainability in the legal industry. The session included examples of what to expect, how to prepare, how to understand the bigger CSR and Sustainability movement, and how to position firms to be ready – or better yet – be a leader in this space. Here are some key takeaways from the program:

What is corporate social responsibility and sustainability?

  • Pam asked the group what they thought of when the term “CSR and Sustainability” was brought up. Volunteer work? Reducing carbon footprints to combat climate change? Diversity and inclusion? Pro bono work?

  • She then explained that CSR encompasses “all of the above,” summarizing it holistically as “People, Profit, Planet.”

  • CSR and Sustainability is gaining serious importance in the business world, now becoming integral to the strategy and value creation of companies.

What is driving the rising importance of CSR and Sustainability?

  • Investors and public companies are banking great value on CSR and Sustainability.

  • Pam used Blackrock CEO, Larry Fink, and Bill and Melinda Gates as examples of corporate leaders that focus on CSR and Sustainability as an essential responsibility of companies, both public and private.

  • Clients are now looking to law firms to prioritize CSR and Sustainability, which is an obvious reason for firms to pay attention and do better. Pam pointed out that the biggest carbon footprint among law firms isn’t lackluster recycling efforts, but rather business travel and hotels. Clients are expecting better.

What example can firms draw from for their own CSR and Sustainability goals?

  • Pam showcased the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a set of objectives for partner nations to meet by the year 2030. The UN began encouraging organizations, including law firms, to join the UN Global Compact in 2015.

  • Encouraging the group to take a look at the UN Global Compact, Pam explained that many firm clients are now partners, which begs the question of why firms themselves aren’t making it a priority to join.

  • There are plenty of opportunities to drive CSR and Sustainability based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals no matter the industry of your firm or organization, including the Law Firm Sustainability Network, Principles for Sustainable Insurance, Sustainable Banking Network, and many more.

What constitutes effective CSR and Sustainability in an organization?

  • Pam explained that there are three maturity stages of social impact programs within an organization:

    • Transactional: The organization is attempting random acts of kindness and “grin and grip” photo opportunities with no real lasting impact.

    • Transitional: The organization is developing holistic social impact themes for their organization through focused acts of kindness.

    • Transformational: The firm is developing partnerships to achieve greater, more impactful outcomes.

  • Pam showcased the Legally Green and New Partners Community Solar projects by Nixon Peabody as examples of transformational social impact by a law firm.

So, do clients really care about whether law firms are prioritizing CSR and Sustainability?

  • The very short answer is “yes, absolutely.” Clients are already sending RFPs that include sustainability assessments. It’s not a matter of “if” this will happen to your firms, it’s a matter of “when.”

  • Pam recommended that firms become familiar with EcoVadis, a company that audits organizations on three key indicators: organizational policies, actions, and results. EcoVadis then gives the organization a distinctive CSR scorecard, which can be passed onto clients when requested.

  • Pam walked the group through Milliman’s own example of receiving a disappointing EcoVadis score, and in response, created truly transformational social impact projects, such as developing a math tutoring program to help underprivileged students in 36 cities around the United States.

What is the legal industry doing around CSR and Sustainability? What should it be doing?

  • With 85% of law firms having previously received an RFP with sustainability questions, it’s obvious that this is an issue that needs attention. And this is beginning to be understood as priority, as 97% of CEOs believe that sustainability is important to the future success of their business.

  • Organizations like the Law Firm Sustainability Network promotes a collaborative environment of working together for the common good, which can often be an absent practice between highly competitive firms.

  • Pam recommended ALISS, a sustainability assessment crafted specifically for law firms, which offers clear opportunities for law firms to improve their sustainability initiatives in comparison with other firms in the industry.

Final recommendations from Pam

  • Have your firm join the UN Global Compact, because it will allow your firm’s lawyers to get involved with specific platforms within the Compact and make their own personal CSR and Sustainability goals.

  • Take the first step towards prioritizing CSR and Sustainability by assessing and gathering information on what your firm is doing now, whether good or bad. That way, when that RFP with sustainability questions comes, you’ll be prepared.
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