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‘Holding yourself accountable’: Squire Patton Boggs commits to net zero by 2035 with new ESG strategy

Squire Patton Boggs (SPB) has become the latest firm to wade into the thorny environmental, social and governance debate, unveiling a UK ESG strategy with a pledge to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2035.

The Cleveland-headquartered firm, which has UK offices in London, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, is targeting a 15% reduction year on year, which it hopes will see emissions fall by 70% by the end of the decade.

Other key commitments include a 50% incremental increase in pro bono work year on year, the introduction of carbon literacy and environmental management training, and achieving environmental management system certification ISO14001.

Speaking to Legal Business, European managing partner Jonathan Jones (pictured) exalted the virtues of making such long-term pledges: ‘One of the things that we found is that setting targets generally and holding yourself accountable to those targets in a public way does produce results.

‘One of the things that I wanted to put in place was the groundwork about what those targets should be, announcing them in a very, very public way, and then holding ourselves accountable and respect to those targets on an annual basis, both internally and externally.’

Jones also acknowledged that there would be bumps in the road, and that he was prepared not to hit every marker: ‘We’re not perfect, despite what we might think! We will fail targets.’

On the social side, the strategy doubles down on SPB’s commitment to achieving its diversity targets, as well as ensuring that 75% of internships and work experience placements go to disadvantaged students.

Having first announced diversity targets in April 2021, last month the firm revealed that UK female partner representation has since jumped from 17% to 21%, with ethnic minority representation showing a modest increase from 13% to 14% compared to the previous year.

Commenting on these results, Jones acknowledged there was room for improvement on ethnic minority representation: ‘We found that much harder to shift [than female partner representation]. It’s made me evaluate the policies that we’ve put in place around that. Frankly, we have to be much more aggressive about it than we than we have been.’

The firm has also announced a ‘full supplier audit’. This relates to its own supply chain, rather than that of its clients. Though no specific measures around vetting clients form part of the strategy, Jones confirmed that there are already measures in place: ‘All new clients that we take on board go through a pretty rigorous take on process and if we believe that their interests or their outlook are misaligned with the cultural expectations of the firm, then we won’t do it. I’d be misrepresenting the position to say that was wholly ESG driven. That’s driven by a whole range of things, including ability to pay bills.’

The new strategy comes less than a year after the firm hired a specialist ESG manager. Tom Hancocks, who previously served as a lecturer and consultant in applied ethics at the University of Leeds, worked alongside the leadership team to develop the strategy, while an external third party assisted with gathering emissions data and setting the reduction target.

When asked by Legal Business about the well-documented risk of greenwashing on ESG targets, Hancocks said: ‘Perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of good. People can be over critical when it comes to greenwashing and say, ‘you’ve made these commitments, but you’re never going to achieve them’. But actually, the commitments are the start of a long process that everyone’s on, and it’s about incremental, positive change in the right way, rather than being overly critical about the ambitions around these things.

‘It takes a huge amount of infrastructure to actually achieve things like net zero. But pushing and making commitments in that direction is an important first step.’