Calling All Lawyers: You Can Be Agents of Change in Driving Sustainability

| April 20 2022

Hanzo’s Luminary Spotlight of Christine Uri, Chief Legal Officer and Chief Sustainability Officer at ENGIE Impact

We have some exciting happenings coming up on the Hanzo calendar this spring! We’re kicking things off with the first discussion in our Luminary Series, where we interview industry thought leaders to explore the latest trends impacting corporate, legal, compliance, and governance issues. 

On Thursday, May 5, 2022, at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern, Hanzo’s Will Walker will be chatting with Christine Uri, Chief Legal Officer at ENGIE Impact, in a session titled “Environmental Social Governance and How Enterprises Can Advance Sustainability Initiatives.”

Christine has a message for lawyers, especially in-house corporate lawyers. If you went to law school with the idea that maybe you could do some good in the world—even if you've since forsaken your optimism and instead aimed for the best grades, the best clerkship, and the best associate role—it's not too late for those aspirational dreams. You can be a force for good in the world right where you are now.

But before we get to the how let's take a step back. 

 

A Little Background: Who Is Christine Uri?

Christine wears a lot of hats at ENGIE Impact. She’s the Chief Legal Officer, overseeing the company’s global legal team, and the Chief Sustainability Officer. Her work—and ENGIE Impact’s work overall—focuses on helping global companies accelerate their net-zero journey through strategic consulting and data and technology services. Within ENGIE Impact’s corporate sustainability program, Christine makes sure the company uses the best practices it recommends to clients and tests its own products, clinching its leadership role in the sustainability space. 

It’s taken a long and winding road to get to this point. After graduating from law school and completing a federal clerkship, Christine started as a litigation associate working on one piece of the Enron defense. When the adversarial nature of litigation didn’t feel like a good fit, she explored business law, M&A, finance, and contract work.

Even with that breadth of experience, Christine recognized that the law firm life wasn’t maximizing her value, and it was time to find her passion. She met with dozens of business, education, and government leaders before deciding to move to an in-house position where she could be involved with every facet of a business and grow along with a company. That led her to ENGIE Impact, where she began as Corporate Counsel before moving into the Associate General Counsel and Director of Legal Operations roles.

Along the way, Christine has seen a glimpse of the future up close, and she has an essential message for lawyers. 

 

Change Is Coming—and Corporations Must Prepare Now

Corporations can’t turn a blind eye to environmental, social, and governance factors. “Companies have to care about sustainability issues today because their stakeholders care,” Christine explained. “There’s tremendous pressure from investors and consumers, who want to spend their money on companies that behave responsibly. Then there’s the pressure from employees who want to work for companies whose values align with their own and advocacy organizations that are bringing litigation against companies that don’t take care of the environment or their people.”

If that weren’t enough, there’s the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to worry about. The SEC recently proposed new rules requiring companies to include climate-related disclosures in their registrations and reporting, including disclosures about their greenhouse gas emissions. 

These aren’t simple problems with simple solutions. “Reducing the carbon footprint of a business—or even just accurately measuring the carbon footprint—is incredibly difficult. It requires coordination and collaboration across the entire organization,” Christine said. Corporations need their best minds working on sustainability, brainstorming solutions, and leveraging relationships throughout the business to complete this complex work. 

Who’s well-positioned to contribute to solving these massively complex problems? You guessed it: lawyers.

 

Legal Teams Are in the Right Place to Help Drive Their Organizations’ Responses

Christine explained, “The people within the corporate legal team touch everything. Legal has relationships with every team in the business. The infrastructure, the know-how, and the problem-solving capacity needed to lead the organization are all right there in the legal department. To be sure, legal teams will need help from sustainability experts — but they can make a huge difference on environmental, social, and governance issues.”

Now's the time to see the legal department in a new light. Legal is well-positioned to lead proactively instead of reactively. “We come from a perspective where we’re focused on ethics and compliance rules. Those programs are set up with a low bar due to their origin in the federal sentencing guidelines: how can we keep our executives out of jail? What’s the least we can do to maintain legal compliance?” Christine said. While that's undoubtedly important, it's not exactly inspiring.

But, she continued, “It elevates the whole discussion when we instead ask, ‘What would be the right thing to do?’ The legal team can set the moral compass for the whole company just by making that one shift. Figuring out what’s the right thing to do is incredibly powerful—and in the long run, it saves the company so many costly problems.” 

Christine’s take-home message is simple. “If you’re missing that sense of making a difference, and you’re in-house at a company, your company needs you to be thinking about sustainability,” she said. That encompasses not just environmental issues but also social justice and human rights. If those big issues feel like a stretch, Christine said, think again. “You don’t need to have studied science, and you don’t have to be defined by your law degree. You made it here because you’re smart and capable, and that extends beyond the legal sphere. Start small, but start learning.”

Want to hear more about corporate sustainability and the part you can play at your company?

Join us!

Our full conversation with Christine Uri is happening on Thursday, May 5, 2022, at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern. Register for the first session of Hanzo’s Luminary Series here.

 

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