Climate Change
Monday, 12 August 2013 09:31

An unconventional sustainability story – the Adams & Adams journey

Why would a leading South African law firm have any interest in sustainability? To find out, eminent sustainability carbon specialist Dr Marco Lotz interviewed Charnè le Roux, the partner at Adams & Adams responsible for the firm’s sustainability programme.

Many companies have started to offer products and services labelled as sustainable. We also follow the internal sustainability journeys of these companies with great interest as it only seems reasonable for companies to, in a sense, practice what they preach.

The next wave of companies to look at are companies that are actively working on their own sustainability journey without having a current focus on products and service offerings in this field. Maybe we can refer to this as “practising without preaching” companies.

One such a company is Adams & Adams, a leading South African law firm which started in 1908. It specialises in intellectual property law, is the largest intellectual property law practice in Africa and also provides general commercial legal services. It has offices in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and all over the continent.

The first question any sceptic should ask is: “Why?” Why is a law firm interested in sustainability? This question was posed to Charnè.

Charnè: The Adams & Adams sustainability journey is rooted in sound current business sense, but we also keep an interested eye on the future. Various components of the journey started some years ago, but during 2012 it became a major focus.

Current business rationale, driven by rising energy costs, non-renewable resource scarcity and changing client expectations, dictates that we should reduce electricity use, paper consumption and business travel. Whether in financial, human, socio-economic or any inter-connected context, a business’ sustainability is now tangible and measurable.  

One of our success stories is the use of video conferencing between the various offices, not as a novelty, but as a day-to-day business as usual activity. This not only reduces pollution, but has a direct cost saving.

There are also some key clients who are starting to incorporate sustainability measures within their tender processes. At Adams & Adams we do not wish to be a fast follower, but rather to lead in fulfilling our clients’ needs in this regard.

We are also keenly aware of the regulatory developments that could have far-reaching implications, also for us as a law firm. These developments include changes within energy regulation and the development of a domestic carbon tax, to name but a few.

With a grasp of “why” the next question is: “How?” How did Adams & Adams start and what are the key components that are required to commence with the sustainability journey?  

Charnè: The first step was to obtain buy-in from the Adams & Adams partners and management team, who fortunately were early adopters of our sustainability journey. The buy-in process required that we address difficult questions regarding the budget necessary for this journey, that we change management processes and determine what the gains would be in the end.

The second crucial step was to identify our weaknesses in the applicable knowledge area and, where required, the expert to be consulted to supplement our skills set.

How many of us truly spend time to understand our water and electricity bills? The fact that the lights are on and the bill is paid does not equate to good electricity management, but rather points to good accounts management. So we had to take an in-depth look at our electricity billing and measurement, and where we did not understand it or it did not add up, we asked an expert.

An expert should also be consulted about where the focus could be placed to achieve future reductions. In short, focus your limited time and resources. A simple Internet search can also produce good information. 

Thirdly, and this is the toughest part, see the sustainability journey as exactly that: a journey. It takes time and conscious effort to understand the OPEX expenditure and how possible CAPEX projects can be beneficial or too expensive with current options.

This is especially true in the Adams & Adams case, as currently our facilities are leased and not owned. A good relationship with the landlord is then imperative. It also takes time to settle the right housekeeping behaviour and to change the relevant management procedures. 

One key take-out of the Adams & Adams story is that offering products and services labelled as “sustainable” is not a prerequisite to start with the internal sustainability journey. Does it not make good sense to address the internal questions before a client comes asking? In our ideal shared future world, all companies should be “practising without preaching”.


Dr Marco Lotz

Tel: +27 11 294 1650

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Adams & Adams

Charnè le Roux

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