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Climate Action Programme case study: Burges Salmon

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Law firm Burges Salmon have made significant progress in addressing their carbon footprint since 2016 and have set a net zero target of 2026. In this case study, Kirsty Green-Mann, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Burges Salmon shares their ambitious climate action journey and some key learnings.

Kirsty Green-Mann

Credit: Neil Phillips Photo and Film Ltd

The main piece of work that we’ve done is to set our Science-Based Target – this approach provides clarity, robust calculating methodology and it’s paved the way to start to seek external verification of our data. What’s been most important in terms of determining this target is getting real insight and understanding of scope 3 emissions beyond simply business travel. It was a bit surprising that 96% of our emissions are scope 3, so it’s incredibly important that we now have that understanding. We also learnt that approximately 75% of those scope 3 emissions relate to our supply chain, so supplier engagement has become a top priority.

Working with suppliers and clients on the transition

Our initial supplier analysis indicated that our top 40 suppliers account for some 80% of the supply chain emissions. We are now working to engage those suppliers in disclosing their emissions because to date it’s been theoretical calculations. There are challenges as some of those suppliers are bigger companies than us and we are not their biggest customer, so our leverage is limited. There are different levels of maturity amongst the suppliers in terms of carbon foot-printing so it has to be a bit of a journey together. We are also engaging our suppliers on other elements of responsible business, it’s not just about climate.

On the client delivery side, we have a lot of expertise on net zero projects such as renewable energy, hydrogen, and transport decarbonisation, so we feel it’s quite important that we walk the talk. We sometimes get asked if there are any clients that we wouldn’t work with. It’s more a match of where we have relevant expertise and recognising that we all need to transition across, so we want to work together with our clients and suppliers, to encourage and help with that transition.

Revisiting and redoubling our efforts

Alongside our efforts on scope 3, we’re looking at how to continually reduce our scope 1 and 2 emissions. We’reBurges Salmon offices advocates and supporters of Bristol’s district heating network and ideally, we want to connect in as it will really help us with reducing scope 1 emissions further and moving away from gas. We’re keeping in touch with Bristol City Council about the timelines for that.

We’re also doing another review of energy use in our office to identify ways to make further savings which fits in nicely with cost benefits particularly noting the increasing energy prices.

Another significant area for us is travel, both business travel and our people’s commutes so we’ve been collaborating with the University of Bristol to inform changes to our sustainable travel policy. As we move into a new phase of the pandemic and our business grows, including with international links, there will be a challenge as we try to balance what we need to do for our clients and business development and keeping an eye on our climate commitments.

Tell a positive story

The basic concept of being a business that is kind to the planet is easy to understand but the language and terminology is not very accessible – terms like scope 3 emissions, carbon accounting, and net zero can be a turn off, as well as recognising that best practice and definitions are evolving. There has also been a challenge with the technicality of determining Science-Based Targets and ensuring people understand the difference between theoretical calculations, the practical data and the various categories and sources of information.

What has helped to build momentum against the magnitude of the challenge, is being able to tell a positive story. We need people to believe that we can make a real difference, that every action counts and that there are multiple business benefits to taking climate action so I’ve focussed on telling that positive story and the belief that we can do this.

Next steps

Now we’ve got our reduction pathway it’s a case of getting on and sticking to the plan! We’re looking to bring some Burges Salmon atriummore technical expertise in-house, so we won’t be relying on consultants so much. We recognise it’s a growing area so it’s helpful to have that knowledge in-house for our clients, but it will also reduce consultancy costs for us.

We’ve been offsetting residual emissions and have started to see the price of offsetting increase which really encourages the focus on reductions first. We’re looking to support some high quality more local to Bristol carbon offsetting projects building on our Scottish investment in rewilding and biodiversity.

We’re also looking to enhance our CDP Climate performance and get a deeper understanding of the climate risks and opportunities more broadly across the firm.

Top tips

  • Be pragmatic about it and take a systematic approach.
  • Take the time to build the understanding of why it’s important and what the benefits are.
  • As with any kind of change, focus on the middle bit. The early adopters will just get on board, there will be some laggards where you could spend a lot of time but if you use just a bit of energy to engage the ones in the middle, it will make the biggest shift.
  • We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to access some good consultancy but there are free carbon calculators readily available online and a lot of open resources available (including through the Partnership’s Climate Action Programme!)
  • Your insights don’t have to be completely perfect – getting some insight is better than no insight.
  • Have the passion, have the belief and make it work in your business or organisational context.

 

Burges Salmon are a member of Bristol Green Capital Partnership’s Climate Leaders Group. Find out more about Burges Salmon’s environmental actions on their website and take a look at their net zero legal services and expertise.

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