Legal Environmental Insight: Report of AusLSA Members 2013

Executive Summary

Download the full report (PDF 1.9MB)

FROM THE AusLSA CHAIRS

Over two thirds of our members (31 of the 45) have submitted an environmental report to AusLSA for the
FY2013 reporting period. Of the 31 members that submitted reports, 27 have chosen to publish their
report. We congratulate these firms for their commitment to transparency and accountability.

This rapid growth in membership and in the number of member firms reporting demonstrates a growing
commitment to sustainability amongst the Australian legal community.

As more firms report each year, the data and trends become more representative of the sector as a
whole. Our analysis of the trends among reporting firms this year reveals some significant achievements,
as well as some continuing challenges.

It is clear that firms that have someone who is committed to improving sustainability – a ‘champion’ or
leader in this area – achieve the greatest improvements. By sharing their stories and environmental
reports and by engaging with other AusLSA Members, all Australian law firms can contribute to
improving our global environment.

 

David Goener and Kelvin O'Connor
Co-Chairs, AusLSA

      

A growing body of data

This is the fourth annual report on the environmental performance of AusLSA Members.

AusLSA Members report on their environmental performance using a set of standardised metrics in the areas of:

  • electricity use
  • greenhouse gas emissions from business
  • travel
  • paper use
  • the provision of recycling facilities; and
  • carbon offsetting.
Because the number of reporting firms has grown steeply since AusLSA first launched, we need to be cautious in attributing significance to trends between FY2010 and today. As the number of reporting firms stabilises, the analysis of year-on-year
trends will become more robust.

On the basis of the data reported to date, we can see some emerging trends. We can also see that there are large variations across the sector for each of the reporting categories. 

Electricity use is decreasing

The use of electricity is still the single biggest source of emissions for our Members as a whole, but is decreasing on a per-head basis. On average, 2.92 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (“t CO2e”) were emitted for each staff member from firms’ electricity use during FY2013.


Thirteen of the 15 firms that have been reporting since FY2011 have reduced their emissions from electricity use over this period. This indicates that the downward trend is due to firms’ energy-saving efforts, and not just to the increasing diversity of Reporting Members.


Factors such as the age and efficiency of office premises, changes in headcount and the carbon intensity of the local grid have a strong influence on emissions from electricity use. However, the large variations between the lowest and highest reported emissions indicates that there are opportunities for firms to further reduce emissions from this source.


Firms have achieved emissions reductions through initiatives such as installing more energy-efficient lighting and IT equipment and by encouraging more energy-efficient behaviours by staff (such as shutting down computers overnight).

  





 

Emissions from business travel are levelling off after steep increases


Emissions from business travel (primarily flights) are showing some signs of steadying and even reducing among the main cohort of reporting firms. Average travel emissions per head for FY2103 were 1.93t CO2e. 

The Executive Members saw a steep increase in travel-related emissions between FY2010 and FY2012, but a slight decline (4%) since last year. Among the group of 26 firms that reported in FY2012 and again this year, we see an encouraging 12% reduction in emissions from business travel. 

International firms tend to have much higher emissions from air travel than single-state firms, but there are significant variations in travel patterns and resulting emissions even among this group. Firms are encouraged to “eliminate, substitute and combine” business trips to reduce their emissions from this source. 

Paper use is decreasing

On average, firms reported using nearly 122kg of paper per employee in FY2013. This has decreased by around 2% since last year. 

The Executive Members have reduced their paper consumption since they started reporting in FY2010 by 12% per head, from an average of 140kg to 123kg. 

There are still significant variations between firms’ paper consumption, indicating that there is room for greater efficiency in paper use across the sector. 

Recycling facilities expanding

There is universal provision of recycling facilities for paper at reporting firms’ offices, and reasonably good facilities for the collection of other recyclables (plastic, metal and glass). Firms are increasingly also providing facilities for the diversion of organic waste to compost. E-waste is collected at all office locations for 20 of the 31 reporting firms.

Carbon offsetting has slowed

Carbon offsetting by AusLSA Members increased from two of eight reporting firms in FY2010 to four of 15 firms in FY2011 and 10 of 27 firms in FY2012. Eleven out of 31 firms offset their carbon emissions in FY2013. 

This slowing of the uptake of offsetting may be related to an increasing focus on cost savings or to the introduction of the carbon price, which altered the incentives for voluntary carbon offsetting in Australia by putting a price on all carbon emissions. 

  

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