Advised Emissions: What are they and why should you care?

Advised emissions are the carbon emissions associated with the advice law firms give to clients. The basic question being asked is, ‘How much of each client’s emissions could be linked to services provided by its lawyers?’

It’s generally agreed that advised emissions fall outside of the Scopes 1, 2 and 3 of traditional carbon reporting, and as yet there is no accepted methodology for calculating them. Nevertheless…

Advised emissions are growing in prominence. They are becoming a focus area in the legal sector and wider professional services industry. This is in part because clients and other stakeholders are looking for greater clarity on the climate commitments of the organisations in their value chains. It is also because, for all professional services providers, their greatest climate impacts almost certainly stem from the advice they give, not their operations.

The implication is that operational Net Zero is not enough for law firms; their greatest impact is going to be in rethinking their approach to client work and any necessary mitigation.

In April 2023, The Law Society launched its climate change guidance for solicitors, a milestone that introduced many solicitors to the concept of advised emissions. Its guidance is broad, suggesting that firms ‘consider how they might be able to influence the reduction of advised emissions in line with their broader target setting’. Amongst other things, it suggests assisting clients with transition planning and asking whether or not certain matters should be rejected on the basis of a firm’s climate commitments.

In June 2023, Legal Charter 1.5 was launched by a group of prominent commercial and corporate law firms. It aims to drive transformational change to mitigate the climate crisis. One of its eight principles is a commitment to developing a methodology for measuring advised emissions. Signatories believe that this is a key element in the legal sector’s pathway to delivering on its 1.5°C commitments.

Even more recently, September 2023 saw the publication of a white paper by Oxygen House proposing the first guidance methodology for calculating advised emissions. While it highlights many data gaps and areas for improvement, it is a huge first step in helping firms address the challenge of quantifying advised emissions. Firms looking to get ahead in this area of law firm ESG should take a close look at this paper.