Climate Solutions at Work

Legal

Because in-house legal teams advise corporate governance, assess and manage risks and compliance, and keep abreast of changing regulatory and policy landscapes, you are well-poised to help your company actively address the climate crisis. If you work as a general counsel, you likely engage your company’s board, giving you direct access to key decision-makers who can move your company faster on climate. Other members of the legal team can guide their companies on relevant policies and regulations and ensure climate is considered in contracts and other legal agreements. Finally, you may be able to help advise the company and employees on issues related to employee organizing on climate action (and other issues for activism).

To make your legal job a climate job:

Corporate governance
  • Work with the board’s compensation committee to tie C-suite compensation to achievement of the company’s climate targets. 

  • Include climate topics in every board meeting agenda. 

  • Provide climate-related educational opportunities for the board. 

  • Familiarize yourself with the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) standards for your company’s industry. Organize a training session for your board where you provide an overview of these standards and discuss key risks and opportunities for the company. 

    • The board’s fiduciary duties require them to pay attention to climate risks—ensure there is oversight of climate impacts at the board level. 
  • Work with the board to ensure adoption of climate-related commitments with clear and relevant key performance indicators.

  • Ensure that oversight of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) activities rests with the board.

  • Work with the board’s nominating and governance committee to integrate climate and diversity requirements across its responsibilities. Recruit board members with climate expertise.

    • Having diverse representation on the board that spans a spectrum of voices and perspectives ensures climate action taken at the company level is equitable and just. Include climate activists, new or younger directors, Black and Indigenous directors and people of color, women, and members of other underrepresented and historically marginalized groups. 
Work with external counsel
  • Work with law firms that are committed to offering their clients services that “align and facilitate client decarbonization” and do not work with fossil fuel or other extractive industries. (Take note of the best and worst actors). 

    • If you work with outside firms on a regular basis, provide a set of “outside counsel guidelines” that incorporate your climate goals. 
  • Ask law firms to provide information on their emissions (especially if your company reports Scope 3 emissions).

Legal agreements
  • Adopt contractual language that addresses climate risks and impacts. (See resources below). 

  • Work with procurement teams to develop contractual language that requires key customers and suppliers to provide emissions data.

  • Familiarize yourself with the physical risks of climate change (e.g., sea-level rise) and, if relevant, adopt contractual language to directly or indirectly allocate risk. 

    • This may be particularly relevant for real estate transactions, but it is also relevant for understanding risks to your supply chain.
  • Work with your insurer to understand your coverage with respect to climate-related disasters, and any opportunities to mitigate climate risk.

  • When conducting Know Your Customer processes or due diligence in connection with a transaction, include diligence on the counterparty’s exposure to climate risk.

  • Work with your finance team to talk to your bank and other financial providers about the possibility of using green bonds or green loans. 

    • Companies may be able to obtain more attractive terms if they commit to using debt proceeds to finance climate-friendly projects. 
  • Work with the human resources and operations team to help them navigate legal requirements under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), to assist them in offering employees a default climate-safe retirement option with competitive financial returns.

Policy and regulation
  • Work with your corporate sustainability and public policy teams to educate your board on how shifting environmental laws and climate disclosure regulations affect cost-benefit analyses and business decisions.

  • Prepare to disclose emissions data (see proposed Securities and Exchange Commission proposed rules). 

    • Publicly listed companies in the U.S. may soon be required to report on Scope 1 and 2 emissions, along with “material” Scope 3 emissions (see Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures). While not directly subject to these rules, non-publicly-traded companies will still be impacted, as publicly traded counterparties may require reporting of emissions data for Scope 3 purposes.
Team travel
  • Minimize carbon-intensive business travel for you and your team, and opt for virtual gatherings. If possible, instead of flying, choose lower-carbon travel options, such as the train.
Fostering dialogue and action
  • Build community with other climate-concerned colleagues within your team and beyond. Come together to brainstorm ways you can take action, and raise your collective concern at team and all-staff meetings.
Ready to take action?Here are some questionsand ideas to help youget started: 

Take stock: Identify your company’s corporate sustainability and climate commitments, if any. Are these goals connected to the legal team’s goals? Can you integrate the above actions into your company, team, or individual performance objectives? What is your company’s current board make-up? Are any of the board’s initiatives related to climate and sustainability? Knowing what commitments have been made at a higher level can set you up to help advance those commitments and give you a framework to work within, offering leadership proof points to highlight and celebrate.

Make needed changes or reach out to someone else who can: What decision-making power do you have? Can you implement these actions yourself, or do you need to raise the issue with a supervisor? Is anyone with decision-making power already on board with climate action? Or is there someone you might be able to influence? Test the waters by sharing your own interest in climate action with other key colleagues and gauging their response. Consult power-mapping tools for help.

You don’t have to do it alone: Find others in your department who are climate-concerned. Join forces to show broad support behind integrating climate action into legal and board activities and throughout the organization. Consider writing a letter or petition to leadership, or bringing up your concerns at an all-staff meeting (something that will grab leadership’s attention!).

Need help making the business case? 

Climate change is ranked in the top five global threats to business by CEOs, boards, and investors, presenting an urgent need and opportunity for governance and legal activities  to translate climate action into real-life business strategies. If you work as general counsel: Boards oversee a company’s long-term strategy and direction, and the long-term health of a company will undoubtedly be impacted by a changing climate—from the climate-associated risks of natural disasters and crop failures, to the ability to attract and retain young talent and have a happy employee base motivated by values-driven work.

Resources 

The Drawdown Labs Job Function Action Guides will help employees understand how their roles are critical in addressing the climate crisis, as well as implement high-impact solutions and navigate key considerations for taking action inside the workplace.

Board of Directors
Strategy
Product
Development
Sustainability
Communications
Partnerships
and Community
Affairs

Please note: This graphic is illustrative of how different teams across a company must work together to achieve strong climate action. We encourage you to examine your organization’s own unique structure to determine how to best coordinate and integrate climate action across functions.

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