In the last two plus years, the world has been forced to cope with three related and increasingly complex challenges:
- A global public health crisis
- An increasingly complex global economy in which many of the core foundations and mechanisms of globalization have been disrupted or are under attack
- Growing alarm about a proliferation of environmental disasters and social unrest that are fueling urgent demands around sustainability, economic inequality, social justice and the long-term interest of stakeholders as shareholders.
In response, business leaders, both individually and collectively, have issued a plethora of proclamations about their commitment to sustainability or environment, social and governance issues (ESG), pledging to make widespread changes to their own practices as well as committing tens of billions of dollars to find solutions and effect change. Notwithstanding these statements, widespread skepticism remains about their sincerity and the potential impact of these commitments. This skepticism will likely impede and ultimately undermine genuine efforts at reform, spur calls for more draconian and potentially counterproductive regulation and generally undercut the social license that businesses need to preserve customer loyalty and to recruit and retain top talent. Determining how to work through these challenges while maintaining focus on overarching business goals is the critical question for organizations going forward. And all of these issues are increasingly landing on the desk of the General Counsel.
To understand this dynamic, in 2022 EY Law and the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession (CLP) launched the General Counsel Sustainability Study, a major research initiative to explore what role law departments are playing in developing, framing and executing ESG policies and practices. As a first step, EY Law and CLP surveyed over 1,000 General Counsel representing 12 industries and across 20 countries about the law department’s role in sustainability. The Study focused on issues relating to environment practices, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), transaction due diligence, governance and much more. To supplement and extend this data, we also conducted more than a dozen in-depth, hour-long conversations with General Counsel from Global 100 companies. The combined result provides a unique and expansive view of the role of law departments in addressing the challenges and opportunities in the sustainability space.
2022 General Counsel Sustainability Study
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