Michelmores hosted the Impact Investing Lawyers Network breakfast on 13 February. Our excellent and inspiring panellists spoke passionately about The Chancery Lane Project, the unavoidable need for us to all be responsible for sustainability and the controversies around ‘impact washing’.
The session opened with Matthew Gingell (General Counsel at Oxygen House Group) who talked about the purpose of commercial solicitors and how impact investment lawyers should create their own impact. He went on to introduce the Chancery Lane Project an innovative and collaborative pro-bono project whose vision is a world where every contract and law helps provide solutions to the climate crisis. Using a hackathon model to devise, develop and draft practical solutions for businesses and communities to transition to net zero, the project aims to create new market norms for a greener world. We look forward to the publication of the Project’s Climate Contract Playbook and Green Book of Model Laws on 26 February 2020. Lawyers can get involved in the Project by signing up via the website.
Amanda Carpenter from the Legal Sustainability Alliance shared her insights on the climate challenges facing the world and how lawyers should be leading the charge in undertaking sustainable practices and encouraging the same in dealings with their clients. These are topical issues that can no longer be ignored and as Amanda noted, “Adolescent mental health is at an all-time record low… environmental changes have a part to play in this”. She also observed that if we carry on putting plastic in the oceans at the current rate “by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight”
In response to a query from the audience about the virtues of carbon offsetting, Amanda felt that much depended on the quality of the offsetting and highlighted that, critically, it could be used as a tool to enable businesses to simply carry on as they are rather than really tackling issues around whether their carbon footprint can be reduced.
For those who are unsure where to start (beyond reaching out the LSA), Amanda suggests that businesses carry out an assessment of their carbon footprint in the first instance to establish what can be worked on to improve it (noting that “you’d be surprised how many easy-wins can be identified straight away”).
Mollie Liesner (Impact Manager at AgDevCo) provided an insightful introduction to ‘impact washing’. Her experience with scaling and measuring impact painted a very informative picture with real-life examples of how impact washing can play out in businesses. Mollie highlighted that much of the challenge comes from the different approaches and the lack of standardisation in how impact is measured.
The panellists went on to talk about how several attempts are being made to create a form of impact measuring, but that the sector is still a far way off agreeing upon an approach.
Where there is a risk of ‘impact washing’, Mollie recommended looking behind the figures and understanding whether a fund has institutionalised the intention to create impact through its investments, actually measures the impact, and then uses that data to drive decision-making.
The audience were interested to know about the perceptions of impact investing in contrast to investing in non-impact focussed funds. Nirav Patel (Senior Associate in our Impact Investing Team) who was moderating the panel discussion talked about the findings of a study commissioned by Michelmores entitled Millennials, money & myths which found that 73% of affluent millennials feel a responsibility to use their money to have a positive impact on the world and that 30% of affluent Millennials will consider whether a venture has a positive social or environmental impact when investing money. However, Nirav highlighted that those positive views are not yet reflected in the investments that they are actually making, but that the expectation is that this will change in the coming years as impact investing and an understanding of how its returns compare to other more traditional investments become better known.
Nirav Patel said of the event, “This was a hugely informative and forward-looking session. It is clear that the challenges of climate protection and sustainability are top of the agenda for all businesses. It is incumbent on lawyers to help where we can in influencing climate and impact positive decision making in business. The reality is that we must lead by example and a lot of law firms will acknowledge that the time to start that transition is now”.