15 October 2021

CEO Update: ESG is here and it’s here to stay

Increasingly one of the conversations clients want to have with us is about environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibilities and policies. Theirs and ours.

For some clients it has been about assisting them in preparing for major legislative changes in this space such as the Modern Slavery Act and associated reporting responsibilities.

Other clients are asking us about policies and governance as part of their own supplier ESG engagement arrangements and benchmarks.

And finally, some are looking to learn or share information about their approach to ESG – a conversation we’re always happy to have.

What is common to all those discussions is the increasing focus on ESG as an integral part of any organisation’s long-term sustainability, strategy and culture.

A recent Mergermarket survey states 90% of global asset managers and private equity funds say investors will be more pressing on ESG accountability over the next two years. And it’s not simply investors asking the questions - increasingly it is clients, customers, and prospective employees demanding transparency, fairness and accountability from Government and business – and that’s a good thing.

Bartier Perry is committed to ensuring that as a firm we deliver value – value through the services we provide to our clients as well as value to our employees, stakeholders, and broader community. This is the essence of ESG.

We are making progress with our own ESG strategy but are aware it isn’t always an easy path – and sometimes made harder for our small to medium clients as many may have the same compliance obligations as multi-nationals without the same resources.

As we near the end of another year and many are taking stock of where they are in their ESG journeys, I wanted to give you a brief three-point overview of the ESG approach our firm is taking and a handful of the resulting outcomes.

Long-term willing participants

For many organisations, having specific environmental, social and governance policies and reporting obligations will increasingly be mandated either through Government regulation or as a supplier requirement.

However, for Bartier Perry it has been far more powerful to approach ESG from the rationale of choosing to put in place policies. The highest expectations for sound, evolving and effective ESG strategies come from within our firm, and always have.

Focus

The benefit of being a long-term willing participant is that by engaging and involving our people, we focus on the best delivery for effective outcomes. For the first time we have participated in the Australian Legal Sector Alliance’s* annual reporting where we were both pleased with some results and have recognised room for improvement in others.

Last year we assisted Beyond Blue in helping raise awareness and providing funds, assisting those whose mental health was impacted following last year’s COVID lockdowns. This year we worked with Maari Ma Health to ensure COVID vaccines were distributed to Indigenous Peoples in remote communities in far western NSW.

For both these projects, there was a connection, and deep pride, across the entire firm.

Measurement and outcomes

ESG provides a pathway to continuous improvement. This benefits our clients, our people and our community.

Recently, we identified that the number of hours our lawyers spent on pro bono was too low. In changing this we not only put a plan and policies in place, but ensured we held ourselves accountable by setting stretch targets. We are now on track to meet the Australian National Pro Bono Target of 35 hours per lawyer per year this financial year.

Additionally, I am beyond delighted that Bartier Perry has this month been recognised in the Australian Business Awards 2021 as an Employer of Choice alongside some of the country’s largest employers. By engaging with, and retaining our talented and dedicated team, we ensure our clients continue to receive outstanding legal services and can continue to invest in our broader community.

We don’t hold ourselves up as leaders in ESG, but one day we would like to be. For now, I think it is important that we collaborate as and when we can and I welcome any opportunities or ideas you may have for doing so.

Author: Riana Steyn

 

*The Australian Legal Sector Alliance (AusLSA) is an industry-led association working collaboratively to promote best practice sustainability commitments and performance across the legal sector. AusLSA's sustainability framework includes sustainable and inclusive workplaces, community support, environmental conservation and responsible governance.