Ian McDougall, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, LexisNexis, and Ursula Wynhoven, Chief Legal Officer and Chief, Governance and Social Sustainability, UN Global Compact, discussed new resources that general counsels can use to promote corporate sustainability within their respective organizations.
Ian McDougall, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, LexisNexis, and Ursula Wynhoven, Chief Legal Officer and Chief, Governance and Social Sustainability, UN Global Compact, explored the idea of “corporate sustainability” and its importance for today’s general counsels during a Fireside Chat involving Argyle’s General Counsel membership at the 2016 Chief Legal Officer Leadership Forum in New York on Feb. 24. During the chat, both McDougall and Wynhoven defined corporate sustainability and outlined some of the new resources that general counsels can use to promote this idea throughout their respective organizations.
So what is corporate sustainability exactly? For many people, corporate sustainability is considered to have a “green color” to it and typically involves focusing on the environment, according to Wynhoven. But at many companies, corporate sustainability includes four dimensions:
Today, corporate sustainability refers to the combination of value creation and corporate responsibility. It involves both risk management as well as opportunity creation. In addition, corporate sustainability goals remain pivotal for businesses and are rising up many businesses’ agendas.
General counsels are responsible not only to their respective organizations but also to the law and society at large. As such, these professionals have a head start on examining corporate sustainability issues. And general counsels that prioritize corporate sustainability can contribute to an organization in a variety of ways.
“Many general counsels … are already using corporate sustainability as a way to achieve their objectives, typically around management of risk, but also to create value.”
For example, a legal department have been referred to as “the department of no” in the past, as it failed to offer sufficient guidance to business leaders and employees within an organization. However, a focus on corporate sustainability empowers general counsels to become active leaders within their organization. These professionals can become more transparent and respond to employees’ legal concerns quickly and effectively if they focus on exploring ways to develop sustainable operations throughout an organization.
“Many general counsels … are already using corporate sustainability as a way to achieve their objectives, typically around management of risk, but also to create value,” Wynhoven said.
Lawyers can be leaders within the corporate sustainability space because they are already viewed as trusted advisors within their respective organizations. Legal professionals often are asked to offer support with both financial and non-financial issues as well, and corporate sustainability goals empower these professionals to make improvements within an organization to minimize both types of problems.
Legal professionals also possess the expertise to identify issues within an organization and take the necessary steps to resolve such problems without delay. They can play important roles in an organization’s corporate sustainability initiatives, and ultimately, may dictate the success of the initiatives over an extended period of time.
“As lawyers, you have issue-spotting skills that are crucial in identifying and managing new risks, and your role as key guardian … of your organization’s reputation,” Wynhoven noted.
As corporate sustainability becomes exceedingly important in organizations worldwide, the role of the general counsel may continue to change, too. But general counsels who focus on corporate sustainability can maximize the resources at their disposal consistently.
“As lawyers, you have issue-spotting skills that are crucial in identifying and managing new risks, and your role as key guardian … of your organization’s reputation.”
Because corporate sustainability initiatives encourage legal professionals to explore how different departments within an organization can contribute to its overall success, general counsels who promote these initiatives consistently can deliver far-flung results for their respective organizations. General counsels also may be able to improve their chances of optimizing the resources at their disposal while highlighting their value within an organization.
With the ability to raise the bar for its day-to-day operations, an organization can use corporate sustainability initiatives to increase its opportunities to grow within a sector. This organization also could leverage these initiatives to boost its chances of attracting and retaining top talent, improving its culture and ensuring both employees and clients can reap the rewards of working with this organization consistently.
“All businesses must respect the rule of law … but what can businesses do to support the rule of law? It’s clearly a key corporate sustainability theme,” Wynhoven said.
Ursula Wynhoven is the Chief Legal Officer and Chief, Governance and Social Sustainability for the UN Global Compact, the UN’s corporate sustainability initiative. She is a member of the office’s Executive Team, leading legal affairs and compliance and the UN Global Compact’s governance and social sustainability platforms and workstreams, including on human rights and decent work, gender equality, poverty and inequality, peace, anti-corruption and the rule of law. Ursula began working with the UN Global Compact in 2002 and as one of the earliest staff members has played an active role in helping to grow the initiative to more than 13,000 signatories in more than 160 countries with a full roster of workstreams advancing virtually all aspects of corporate sustainability. Ursula led the development with UN agency and other partners of many of the platforms and workstreams, including on human rights and labour, women’s empowerment (Women’s Empowerment Principles), business and children (Children’s Rights and Business Principles), indigenous peoples’ rights, and on business and the rule of law (Business for the Rule of Law). Prior to joining the UN, Ursula worked in law firms and government human rights agencies in Australia and the US and worked for the OECD in Paris on the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the OECD’s corporate responsibility initiative. Ursula has Masters of Law degrees from Columbia Law School, where she was a Human Rights Fellow, and Monash Law School in Australia. She also has Bachelors degrees in Law, Economics and Letters. She is admitted to practice law in jurisdictions in Australia, the US (California) and the UK. Since 2007, Ursula has been an Adjunct Professor in Corporate Sustainability, Business and Human Rights at Fordham Law School in New York and previously taught at the Reykjavik University School of Law. Ursula is a Trustee of the Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law at Columbia Law School and a Girl Scout troop leader.
Ian McDougall is the Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the LexisNexis, Legal & Professional division of RELX Group.
Mr. McDougall joined LexisNexis in 2004 as Vice President and Legal Director for LexisNexis International (LNI), where he oversaw the legal function for the group, including Regulatory Compliance, Commercial Agreements, IT, Intellectual Property and Litigation. Mr. McDougall was also involved in business strategy, acquisitions and general business planning. At LexisNexis, Mr. McDougall has stepped into varying roles, including Interim HR Director for LNI and Interim Managing Director for LexisNexis New Zealand. In addition, he led the LexisNexis implementation of the U.K. Bribery Act compliance and created the organization’s first broad regulatory compliance review program.
Before joining LexisNexis, he led Legal, HR and Facilities departments at Telco Global Ltd., previously one of the largest U.K. independent telecom providers. Mr. McDougall also acted as Chief European Counsel and Group Company Secretary for Hughes Electronics, a former subsidiary of General Motors Corp. Prior to that, Mr. McDougall served in various legal leadership roles for a number of technology and finance organizations; he also has extensive private practice experience.
Mr. McDougall sits on the United Nations Rule of Law Steering Committee and is a member of the UN General Counsel Advisory Board. Until Mr. McDougall’s move to New York he was a Board Director and Trustee for U.K. charity Peaceful Place, which is dedicated to providing support to sufferers of early-onset dementia. He was also appointed as judge in the Barrister’s Disciplinary Tribunal and is a broadcast cricket commentator in association with the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Mr. McDougall is based in New York.