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Sustainable ADR – Recalibrating for the Future

The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators London Branch (CIArb London) and the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) Joint Webinar 18 February 2021.

A panel representing ADR neutrals, practitioners, researchers and appointing bodies put the lie to Kermit the Frog’s oft quoted complaint that ‘it’s not easy being green’.  Instead, the environmental impact of international arbitration can be reduced by a joint effort to modify behaviours to reduce waste, re-use resources and recycle.

The scene was set by independent arbitrator Lucy Greenwood, founder of the Campaign for Greener Arbitrations. Lucy described her conversion from working in gas-guzzling Texas to initiating the Green Pledge for Arbitration, with the startling fact that the average international arbitration produces the carbon equivalent of 21 thousand trees.  The most obvious excesses are unnecessary international flights and superfluous bundles.  Both can be readily reduced by the use of video tech and electronic bundles. These sentiments were echoed by Dr Anna Howard a researcher in mediation at Queen Mary University, London and promoter of the Green Pledge for Mediation.

Michelle Bradfield, a partner with Jones Day, London and member of the Steering Committee for the Campaign for Greener Arbitrations identified the need for clear objectives which can be adopted throughout any law firm, including reducing energy consumption and paper use.

Jamie Harrison, Deputy Director General of the LCIA recognised the impact of the move to virtual hearings, but pointed out that the LCIA had an obligation to manage its operations in a sustainable way, irrespective of the actions of the parties.  The LCIA does not have a hearing centre, so is limited in what it can achieve, but it has banished single use plastic and signed up for the cycle to work scheme.  It hopes its move to a more energy efficient building will also demonstrate its desire to lead by example.

Mia Forbes Pirie, a mediator and facilitator, prompted by the realisation that ‘it’s the environment, stupid’ moved from law to science to advise international organisations on developing energy efficient strategies.  Mia emphasised that extravagant waste does not, by definition, contribute to anything, while recognising the need for the ‘buy in’ for these initiatives to come from the leaders.

CIArb London’s Vice-Chair, Nicholas Stewart KC moderated a wide-ranging discussion prompted by the Q&A, during which the panel highlighted the following points.

  • Although the ‘quiet majority’ of practitioners work to keep international arbitration low carbon. There is still room for educating the parties to reduce their carbon footprint.  The Green Pledge has 8 readily achievable objectives to reduce, reuse and, as a last resort, recycle.
  • Electronic bundles are now widely adopted. A sole arbitrator uses fewer paper bundles than a three person tribunal and cases that settle before a hearing don’t require a hearing bundle at all.
  • The use of electronic technology does not, in itself, increase the risk of the arbitration being hacked. Information is exchanged electronically by the parties and the tribunal in any event.  The use of paper only bundles would not therefore reduce the risk.
  • Being green starts with your own behaviours. Sustainable practices can be readily imported from home to the workplace.
  • Commercial pressure from clients requiring green credentials, can also prompt change. Cost saving improves the business image and the ‘carrot’ of rewarding low carbon emissions will encourage improvement.
  • The carbon footprint of technology is much exaggerated. Data storage, for example, accounts for 1% of the world’s emissions.  Nevertheless the ‘reply all’ e-mail of thanks, is seldom necessary.
  • The pandemic has shown that we can all, event traditionally conservative lawyers, adapt quickly if required.
  • Practitioners are unlikely to slip back into old ways when it’s all over. Although somethings are better done in person, the virtual genie is out of the bottle – there is no going back.
  • Ultimately Covid will be seen as nothing compared with what we all have in store for us as a result of climate change.

The discussion, which included the thought-provoking idea that dispute avoidance, at its most basic, might be good for the planet, concluded with a call to arms – do not underestimate what a group of like-minded, dedicated individuals can achieve.  Brighten up, Kermit, it might not be so hard to be green, after all.

Kim Franklin KC


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