Updated: Aug 15, 2020
How does your social impact program rate? Globally, firms are finding that prospects and clients, as well as employees and recruits expect them to take their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability programs to a new level. These stakeholders expect you to show that you have a holistic, strategic social impact plan with measurable results.
Your stakeholders are likely using third-party certification, audits, or other ratings to assess their vendors’ CSR and sustainability practices. Measuring up to certain standards and certifications can differentiate you in the industry and may determine whether you retain or gain new business opportunities. And it’s one more piece of your overall strategy to shape your business and its brand as a conduit for social good.
If you have not yet received a request for a certification audit from one or more of your clients, you soon will. Here’s what you need to know:
Several companies and tracking systems are becoming standards in the CSR arena. Here are a few:
EcoVadis—A global assessment platform
EcoVadis is a global CSR and sustainability assessment platform based in Paris, France. Founded in 2007, it offers services for both buyers and suppliers, including software tools and platforms that provide CSR ratings and scorecards covering 21 CSR indicators, 190 commodities, and 150 countries. It’s built on three pillars: people, process, and platform.
Seven key principles: EcoVadis uses a CSR scorecard to assess how well a company or firm has integrated its CSR and sustainability practices into its business strategy and management decisions. This assessment is based on seven key principles:
Industry sector, country and size
Diversification of sources to ensure rich enough stakeholder input for reliable scoring
Technology- applied to ensure the process is secure, confidential, and to accelerate the cycle of measurement
Assessment by international CSR experts
Traceability and transparency of documentation
Excellence through continuous improvement
EcoVadis CSR audits or assessments include:
Custom questionnaire and supporting documents.
360 Watch. The EcoVadis 360° Watch selects stakeholder information from legitimate and transparent sources verified by EcoVadis.
Scoring. A score from 0 to 100 is allocated to each theme with feedback on strengths and highlighted areas for improvement.
Validation and publication. Senior analysts verify that firms have followed methodology guidelines, and the scorecard is published on the EcoVadis platform.
CSR issues and global standards. The EcoVadis assessment considers a range of CSR issues, which are grouped into four themes: environment, labor practices & human rights, fair business practices, and sustainable procurement.
The CSR issues are based upon international standards such as the 10 Principles of the UN Global Compact, the International Labour Organization conventions, the Global Reporting Initiative’s standards, the ISO 26000 standard, the CERES Roadmap, and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights— also known as the Ruggie Framework.
The issues covered in each assessment are based on the relevance of the 21 CSR issues to the company context, such as industry, size, and geography and shape the client questionnaire.
Resulting scorecard and benchmarks. Companies can engage EcoVadis to audit and assess their selected supply chain vendors, and/or they can participate in an assessment in order to obtain an EcoVadis scorecard for their own firm. Law firms that represent multinational and global clients may be asked to provide their EcoVadis score, so firms may want to be proactive and complete the assessment each year to have their scorecard available when clients ask for it.
Your EcoVadis assessment also provides benchmarks against which you can strive to improve. Since the process includes a rating methodology based on activity, size, and geography of the assessed company, this produces standardized scores that benchmark CSR performance of companies like yours and clearly shows how your score compares to similar companies.
Businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose can be certified as B Corporations. Driven by a higher standard, B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift. Clearly, the world’s most pressing challenges can’t be fixed by nonprofits and government agencies alone.
“The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose,” according to the nonprofit B Corporation Lab website. “By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.”
Becoming a B Corp—Certify your company for the good of the world
Certification requires three levels of assessment and commitment.
Third-party assessment: Certified B Corporations achieve a minimum verified score on the B Impact Assessment—a rigorous assessment of a company’s impact on its workers, customers, community, and environment.
Public transparency. B Corps make their B Impact Report transparent by posting it on the B Corporation website.
Legal accountability. Certified B Corporations also amend their legal governing documents to require their board of directors to balance profit and purpose. The combination of third-party validation, public transparency, and legal accountability help Certified B Corps build trust and value. Learn more about B Corp certification.
Why should you care?
An increasing number of stakeholders voice their desire to do business with businesses who are “certifiably” committed to purpose as well as profit. This expectation includes their service providers, including law firms.
Tools and benchmarks such as an EcoVadis report card and score and the B-Corp Certification are among the many tools and certifications which are becoming global standards.
Familiarity with these tools will help you serve your clients, as well as your own firm. Law firms who take the EcoVadis Assessment not only receive their scores, but also insight for areas they can improve, thus guiding CSR & sustainability planning going forward.
Your firm can determine whether becoming B-Corp Certified would be advantagous to its positioning and strategic differentiation by exploring the requirements for B-Corp Certification. According to the B-Corp website, there are currently 38 Certified B-Corp legal businesses around the globe. Opportunities still exist to differentiate your law firm by pursuing B-Corp Certification.
Coming up In the next article in this series on CSR & Sustainability for Law Firms, I’ll discuss what a “holistic and transformational” CSR program looks like in the legal industry. It’s so much more than a pro bono program or a diversity and inclusion initiative. For more information, read the previous articles in the series about the United Nations Global Compact and Why Clients Care.
About the Author
Pamela Cone has more than 25 years' experience in the professional services industry in marketing and communications roles, and more recently, building social responsibility programs in collaboration with clients and in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of 2030. She is the Founder and CEO of Amity Advisory, a consultancy to help firms strengthen their CSR programs beyond transactional to achieve truly transformational social impact outcomes.