MinterEllison launches integrated environmental, social and governance (ESG) offering focused on climate risk and sustainability, business and human rights, responsible finance and investment, and governance and conduct.
The single purpose-oriented service group offers clients a truly future-focused and risk sensitive view of sustainable and responsible business practice.
Why is an ESG Advisory group needed now? "Historically, 'ESG' was often viewed as 'non-financial' or 'ethical' in nature, and irrelevant to the pursuit of financial objectives. In recent years that has changed dramatically. There is now mainstream recognition amongst regulators, investors and corporate boards that ESG issues present risks and opportunities that are squarely, and often materially, financial," said Sarah Barker, MinterEllison global head of the firm’s Climate Risk and Sustainability team. "Our clients are seeking advice that understands their holistic corporate context as they grapple with how to transform their approach to ESG and its governance – led from the board down."
Ms Barker leads the climate change risk stream in MinterEllison’s new ESG offering. She is Australia’s representative on the cross-jurisdictional Commonwealth Climate and Law Initiative, sits as an academic visitor at Oxford University’s Smith School, and teaches sustainability in corporate governance for Cambridge University’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership. She is also a trustee director on the board of one of Australia's largest superannuation funds, and the only lawyer represented on the SteerCo of the financial services industry-led Australian Sustainable Finance Initiative.
"Our clients increasingly understand that ESG issues – from climate change to human rights – are dynamic and multi-faceted. Economic risks are being driven not only by the policy and regulatory environment (both in Australia and internationally), but in shifts in stakeholder expectations across financial supply chains and the real economy. This presents a significant challenge for corporate governance – and very real litigation risk exposures for the unwary."
“Clients are increasingly concerned about ESG-issues and we are facing rising demand to assist with new compliance requirements,” says Geraldine Johns-Putra, MinterEllison Partner. “Clients want advisers who can guide them on specific tasks while working with them to embed sustainability into their governance frameworks, their culture and their businesses.”
Ms Johns-Putra advises directors on evolving corporate governance matters, including ESG (environmental, social and governance), directors' duties in managing multiple stakeholder interests, and the intersection of business and human rights including modern slavery reporting.
Ms Johns-Putra said the top three areas where boards were seeking guidance are ESG reporting and disclosures, increasing transparency of responsible practice in their supply chains, and the overall impact of ESG regulation on strategy and governance.
“The new ASX Governance Principles and Recommendations around responsible corporate culture and more detailed ESG reporting are an example of heightened expectations in the area,” she said. “The Hayne Royal Commission is another, calling out the need for a long-term view of shareholder value that considers the interests of many stakeholders.”
Ms Johns-Putra works with companies seeking alternative 'profit-with-purpose' governance models such as B Corporation certification which will independently verify their social and environmental performance and provide accountability. She also sits on the Council of Monash University.
"As a law firm, MinterEllison is often the first port of call for clients needing legal solutions, and we want to work with our clients in a way that makes sense to them," said Ms Johns-Putra. "Our client are facing the challenge of integrating ESG into their businesses from many angles at once, so we have responded with an offering that does the same."
MinterEllison's new offering includes Geraldine Johns-Putra (Partner), Sarah Barker (Head of Climate Risk Governance), Keith Rovers (Partner), Donna Worthington (Partner) and Gordon Williams (Partner).