Our aim is for the entire Bar to be carbon neutral by 2030. To do this, we will need to persuade every set of chambers to cut their carbon emissions as much as possible, and commit to offsetting the remainder. (Most barristers’ chambers do not have large chimneys pumping out greenhouse gasses - thankfully - but we are responsible for a considerable amount of carbon pollution from our energy use, our transport, etc.)   

There is a clear “moral” case for becoming carbon neutral. The overwhelming weight of scientific research indicates that carbon emissions into the atmosphere cause climate change, and that the status quo is leading to environmental catastrophe. Reducing our carbon emissions, so that we as a profession are carbon neutral, is clearly the right thing to do.

The “business” case is harder to articulate and prove. Cutting carbon does involve some effort, and possibly some expense. Why should any business go beyond the requirements of regulation and legislation to do this? We are not an industry where climate is a particularly acute risk (beyond the general, global risk). We are of course responsible members of society, but we cannot compare ourselves with, say, farmers trying to grow crops in changing weather patterns, or insurers paying out for flood and storm damage. Personally, I think our business risk comes from our clients’ focus on climate responsibility. But is there evidence for this? How do we know? Is it right to say that “if you do not cut your carbon, you may lose out on business”?  

Some members of the excellent Bar Council Pro Bono and Social Responsibility Committee put their heads together last week, to discuss priorities and strategies for the coming months. We discussed the best way to gather evidence for the “business case”. We come from different practice areas - and we could think of great examples in the commercial context, and the family context, where clients might prefer to use counsel who are carbon neutral. But how to gather evidence about the Bar as a whole? 

Thankfully we had Leigh Royall as part of the discussion. As a clerk, Leigh could tell us that in his experience, some invitations to tender (from potential clients) give higher scores to those with a comprehensive environmental policy - even down to lightbulb recycling. 

Moreover, Leigh is on the committee of the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks. This was a lightbulb (excuse the pun) moment: what better way to understand what our clients want, than by asking our clerks? Leigh is going to ask his colleagues and will report back. If the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks say that there is a trend towards our clients preferring to instruct barristers whose chambers are environmentally sustainable, that will be a compelling part of the business case for becoming carbon neutral.

This was just one aspect of a very productive discussion, which was itself a small part of our work on pro bono and social responsibility - but I am blogging about it because it offers some insight into our work, and because it is such a pleasure to be part of an informal meeting where great ideas come up.

For more information about the Bar Sustainability Network, click here. This is a great time to join the network, as we will be working with current members to shape the programme for this year and in the longer term. If you have a few minutes to spare, particularly today, on Earth Day (22 April), may I invite you to consider sharing some information about the Bar Sustainability Network with your management committee, and help lead the way towards carbon neutral? In fact, if you click here, a draft email should magically appear… Try it!

I hope to blog more about our work. If you are interested in helping the Bar become carbon neutral, or in social responsibility more generally, please do reach out to me (lscher@maitlandchambers.com) or to Rose Malleson of the Bar Council (rmalleson@barcouncil.org.uk).

Laurie Scher is a barrister at Maitland Chambers, and is working with the Bar Council, the Chancery Bar Association, and Maitland Chambers to develop their environmental and CSR (chambers' social responsibility) strategies. He is Co-Chair of the Bar Council’s Pro Bono and Social Responsibility Committee, and keen to develop the Bar Sustainability Network.