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Sustainable Practice

05 July 2019

With this issue we begin a regular feature which looks at what lawyers and legal workplaces can do to operate more sustainability and to help arrest climate change.

I’m a lawyer, what can I do?

Deeply worried about what is happening to our environment? Very concerned that, whatever the rhetoric, we do have a climate crisis? Lawyers have particular skills which have the potential to achieve positive social outcomes, and a growing number are organising to fight for legislative change and for courtroom victories in the battle to save the planet. Lawyers also work in enterprises that emit carbon, burn energy, use increasingly scarce resources and have many impacts on the environment.

If you’re a lawyer in a New Zealand legal workplace, what have you done? What can you do? What is your employer doing? This quick lawyer-focused survey looks at things in two different ways: how lawyers are acting to fight the climate crisis, and how legal workplaces are committing to sustainable eco-friendly practices.

Fighting the climate crisis

New Zealand now has a lawyers’ group which is committed to action on climate. Formed in May 2019, Lawyers for Climate Action NZ Incorporated had its first AGM on 29 June and is planning to hold a public launch and membership drive in the next few months. Its stated purposes are raising public awareness and understanding of the threat of climate change, advocating for legislation and policies to ensure New Zealand meets or exceeds its commitment under the Paris Agreement, advocating for legislation and policies to ensure New Zealand achieves net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible, advocating for legislation and policies with material impacts on emissions, and facilitating free or reduced cost legal assistance to community groups working to fight climate change.

One of the founders, Jenny Cooper QC, told LawTalk before the AGM that the group website would be live by July and that more than 20 lawyers, including eight QCs, were already on board.

Wind turbines on a hilltop

Generation Zero includes lawyers among its members. It is a non-partisan, youth-led climate organisation that champions solutions towards a carbon neutral Aotearoa: “We campaign for smarter transport, liveable cities and independence from fossil fuels by lobbying government, business and other actors to advance climate change action. It’s time for New Zealand to step up.”

Wise Response describes itself as a broad coalition of academics, engineers, lawyers, artists, sportspeople, etc who are calling on Parliament to comprehensively assess imminent risks to New Zealand and to draw up plans to deal with them. Global climate change is one of the biggest risks and among the “celebrated signatories” to an appeal to Parliament for a NZ Risk Assessment are a law academic and Wellington barrister Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC.

Among the 22 organisations which are members of the New Zealand Climate Action Network is the Aotearoa New Zealand Human Rights Lawyers Association. The Network aims to link organisations aiming for a zero carbon future, powered by 100% renewable energy.

With the formation of a special lawyers’ group, New Zealand has joined a growing number of lawyer organisations which focus on using legal skills to protect our environment. Three of the most prominent:

London-based ClientEarth is a charity which has the objective of using the power of the law to protect the planet and the people who live on it. “We are lawyers and environmental experts who are fighting against climate change and to protect nature and the environment.” Founded in 2007, it is funded by private donors and foundations to undertake specific legal work and interventions.

Earthjustice is based in San Francisco and says it is the largest nonprofit environmental law organisation in the United States. “We leverage our expertise and commitment to fight for justice and advance the promise of a healthy world for all. We represent every one of our clients free of charge,” it states. Earthjustice has just announced a partnership with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Beyond Carbon campaign to spur a transition to 100% clean energy in communities around the world.

Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law has just released its second US Climate Change Litigation Report which lists 159 climate change cases in 2017 and 2018 which have shaped federal climate change policy. The centre says its mission is to develop legal techniques to fight climate change, to train students and lawyers in their use, and to provide up-to-date resources on key topics in climate change law and regulation.

Working sustainably

New Zealand doesn’t yet have a special lawyers’ organisation which focuses on sustainable workplaces.

The Australian Legal Sector Alliance is a group of Australian law firms with the mission: To work collaboratively to promote sustainable practices across the legal sector. A not for profit, it was founded in 2010 and provides tools and resources to member law firms that assist in implementing sustainable work practices. Membership fees range from AUD$300 to $1500 a year, depending on business size. Currently, there are about 39 member firms. Of these, three – DLA Piper, MinterEllison and Wotton Kearney – have New Zealand offices.

Members commit to five principles covering their own operations, but also how members may influence clients, suppliers, employees and policy makers. The initial focus is on environmental sustainability and the principles include measuring, managing and reducing the direct and indirect environmental impact of their operations.

The Australian group is modelled on the Legal Sustainability Alliance which operates in England and Wales. This was founded in 2007 and is a collaborative network of almost 300 firms across the United Kingdom. Membership is free as the LSA Executive Firms and the Law Society of England and Wales provide financial support and leadership. Member firms are committed to looking at and acting on all areas of sustainability. They must also report from time to time on how they are reducing their carbon footprint and/or meeting the LSA Principles. DLA Piper and DAC Beachcroft are members with New Zealand connections.

New Zealand does have the Sustainable Business Network. Founded in 2002, the Network says it is the largest oganisation dedicated to sustainable business in New Zealand. Membership starts at $500 per year. At the start of June 2019 there were 588 members. A search of its membership directory shows three law firm members: Mortlock McCormack Law, Buddle Findlay and Chapman Tripp. A number of other members will employ in-house lawyers.

All members are asked to make an annual commitment to sustainability. The SBN Pledge requires members to select and commit to focus areas and goals. This includes a commitment to support the network’s major projects by taking specified actions.

About those paper LawTalks

For the last few years, LawTalk has been printed on environmentally responsible paper. The body at the heart of this is the Forestry Stewardship Council – an international not for profit organisation which works to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests. The council certifies forests which meet its best practice standards. FSC certification tracks the wood from the forest to the shelf. Touch this page of LawTalk: you can be absolutely certain that the forest it has come from will remain a thriving environment for future generations. On our Contents page we have the FSC logo. Just before printing this is added by an approved auditor (who works for our printers, Format) and who is part of the chain of custody. If you go to the FSC website you can input the unique number and track the chain of custody.

What about the ink?

Vegetable-based inks are used. These are made from vegetable oils. Soy is popular because of its ability to carry solid pigments. Vegetable-based inks take longer to dry than petroleum-based, but they release only 2-4% of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere – compared to 30% for petroleum-based. Our printers source their ink from Huber Group.

Ah, but the plastic wrap…

We use 27 micron biodegradable film made in New Zealand. This means it can be broken down by the action of living organisms. It degrades naturally. If you throw it out, the compost bin is a good place – but to be honest it breaks down best in a commercial compost. Home composting works, but is slower. Our printers source the wrap from Convex.

OK, but I still don’t want the paper

If you want to just read LawTalk online, simply email subscriptions@lawsociety.org.nz, with “please stop LawTalk hardcopy” in the subject line and advise your name, lawyer ID (lawyer login number), workplace and address. We need these as the LawTalk mailing list is automatically generated from all current practising certificate holders and we need to instruct the computer to remove your name.

We’re very happy to comply. Of course, if you email us from your mobile phone, be aware that you are holding about 30 different chemical elements (out of only 98 which naturally occur) and the bright colours in the display are produced by small amounts of rare earth elements. Many of these are hard to obtain. Do you really need to upgrade to the latest iPhone? An estimated 10 million smartphones are discarded or replaced every month in the EU alone. If that worries you, there’s always NZ Post or DX … but they use aeroplanes and diesel trucks … It’s difficult.

Last updated on the 5th July 2019