The mission of the ESG Committee will be to:
- Actively monitor developments in the area;
- Provide a forum for discussion among practitioners both in-house and law firm and help them benchmark their ESG practices against peers;
- Organize CLE programs;
- Link members of the legal profession to academia and not-for-profits active in sustainability;
- Inform members of publicly available educational resources such as courses in ESG matters offered by UN institutions;
- Engage the student body in law schools around the state and New York city; and
- Educate and engage the student body and faculty in New York State’s law schools as to ESG practices and developments
ESG refers to a set of “E”nvironmental, “S”ocial and “G”overnance standards that are used to assess risks, enhance investment returns and/or to promote environmental or societal goals. ESG factors are increasingly incorporated into investment and credit analysis. Companies are evaluated for their sustainable practices by investors and rating agencies. Social issues such as racial justice, diversity and inclusion, data privacy and the like are increasingly important from business and legal perspectives. Robust Governance is critical to ensuring that E and S commitments and obligations are documented so that they can be tracked, measured monitored and reported on.
Companies are also motivated to improve their ESG profile in response to the demands or preferences of the customers and clients, and the desire to improve their ability to recruit and retain the best employees. Corporate leaders are increasingly vocal in promoting ESG values and companies are linking ESG to pay and performance. Companies are adopting new policies promoting diversity and inclusion, and states are adopting new entity forms designed to enhance the ability of governing bodies to account for ESG in decision-making (such as public benefit corporations).
ESG investment vehicles have grown exponentially, and 2020 has seen record inflows into ESG funds formed to allocate capital to sustainable businesses. Green bonds issued to finance environmentally friendly projects, credits for sustainable projects, green loans, active ownership through proxy voting are notable ESG trends.
Legal and regulatory oversight of ESG initiatives and commitments has been de-centralized and ad hoc, and varies from country to country and region to region. International ESG frameworks focus on a wide range of quantitative sustainability standards as well as disclosure requirements designed to allow investors to assess the ESG impact of their investments.
In-house legal teams and their business counterparts have been wrestling with a myriad of ESG-related challenges for many years. Lawyers are increasingly tasked with ensuring that their organizations are adhering to ESG obligations alongside legal and regulatory developments, industry standards and industry best practices. Law firms are developing specialized practices focused on the sometimes existential legal and reputational risks associated with ESG as they assist their clients in navigating this complex space.