Agents of Change

UK progress on the SDGs is weak. Are we doing enough? Do we have the right focus?

Kirsty Green-Mann reflects on how Burges Salmon are making progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in light of the Measuring Up 2.0 report.

At Burges Salmon we are advocates for the UN SDGs and have driven a largely place-based approach to our responsible business activities primarily in connection with our Bristol and Edinburgh offices. We were therefore keen to see the latest Measuring Up 2.0 report. Perhaps unsurprisingly the report makes for stark reading. Our collective aspirations for a fairer, more equitable and sustainable UK seem to be further away than ever whilst the year 2030 is not. The report shows that the UK is largely failing in terms of the pace of change and the policy framework for change and that inequalities have become exacerbated particularly in terms of food security, health, education, and housing.

In light of this it confirms that we at Burges Salmon have correctly prioritised our focus on wellbeing, fundraising in respect of food security, delivering an award-winning working with schools programme, and supporting a number of charities tackling homelessness with our community portfolio.

It’s clear there have been disrupting factors on a national scale with the challenges of Brexit, Covid-19, political instability, economic turbulence, and climate-related events, we do however remain one of the richest countries in the world with notable pockets of progress. This was highlighted in the report, particularly in terms of sustainable land use, decarbonisation of electricity supply, ambitions for Net Zero, employment, sustainable consumption, and reductions in food waste.

Burges Salmon have made strides along these lines too particularly determining our own science-based climate targets whilst working with a number of clients on the transition to Net Zero.

The report calls for stakeholders to work together and for business to integrate the SDGs into core strategy. This along with the findings and recommendations largely resonate with our work and priorities at Burges Salmon where we have taken steps to weave the SDGs into our responsible business plan and our wider strategic aims and purpose.

Integrating the SDGs has guided us in terms of our internal priorities and focus areas, the external charitable and not-for-profit partnerships which we nurture, and how our legal expertise contributes more broadly. This makes sense in terms of the good we can do and in terms of making our firm more successful and sustainable from a commercial perspective. The SDGs are a roadmap for what the world needs more of, and what the world needs less of, simply matching supply to demand makes sense.

In the legal sector we are also collaborating. In respect of the environment, we are co-founding members of the Legal Sustainability Alliance and the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance, and in respect of greater equality we are active contributors to the PRIME Commitment, the Social Mobility Business Partnership, and the Law Society Diversity and Inclusion Charter.

Whilst it is evident that the legal sector has a key role to play with SDG 16 ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’, like many law firms and through our legal sector collaborations we are embracing the Goals more generally. The legal sector can also play an important role recognising that other businesses are our clients and therefore we have an opportunity to encourage and support others coming on board and adopting the SDGs as an accelerator for positive change.

In our experience collaboration and partnerships are a fantastic way to amplify impact and to learn and be challenged. If you are not already partnering with relevant not-for-profits aligned to your responsible business priorities, I’d encourage you to do so. Whilst budgets can be under pressure, be creative in terms of what non-financial support may look like perhaps with volunteers, donations of goods and services, and / or use of your facilities.

The more we can do the better. Time is of the essence.

Kirsty Green-Mann is Head of Corporate Responsibility at the independent commercial UK law firm Burges Salmon LLP. Kirsty leads on the firm’s responsible business strategy, helping to drive forward positive actions for the respect of human rights, social impact, inclusivity and progress towards Net Zero. She is a senior sustainability professional, a pension trustee and held positions on a number of not-for-profit boards. Kirsty has over 20-years international business experience, holds a MBA from the Cranfield School of Management and is a Fellow of both the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment and the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. She was named ESG Officer of the Year at the Women in Governance, Risk and Compliance Awards 2021 and is one of the UN Global Compact Network UK’s SDG Pioneer Finalists for 2022.

 Read more about Burges Salmon’s work towards the SDGs here: