Chang Law is proud to join the Campaign for Greener Arbitrations, a fantastic and much-overdue initiative to reduce the carbon footprint in international arbitration.
The initiative was started by UK independent arbitrator Lucy Greenwood, since joined by a number of leading law firms, practitioners, arbitrators, and other disputes-related organizations. The initiative has resulted in a set of protocols (the “Green Protocols“) for the international dispute resolution market, including protocols specific to arbitrators, arbitration conferences, arbitral institutions, law firms, and service providers. I attended the online launch of the Green Protocols, and came away both inspired and determined to utilize them in my practice.
International arbitration, as its name suggests, is intrinsically cross-border in nature, and frequently involves heavy travel. As an example, in 2018 alone, I traveled from my office home base, Los Angeles (departing from LAX), to Europe and beyond eight times (typically using Paris CDG as the final destination or layover airport, but on occasion landing at Heathrow). According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) (using a roundtrip LAX-CDG itinerary) that amounted to nearly 1,900kg of CO2 per roundtrip, or 15,200kg for eight flights in 2018. By comparison, a single tree will sequester around 182kg of CO2 in a 25-year lifespan (assuming it lives a full lifespan!).
Each of those trips was “business essential” – I flew out for client meetings, fact-finding missions, arbitration hearings, international conferences, and so on. But, how truly essential were these trips? Could I have doubled up, or even tripled up tasks in a single trip, thus reducing the total number of flights? The answer is, most likely yes. The proof of this is our collective response to the global pandemic: in the past year, the dispute resolution world has marched on, despite global bans on travel. In the process, we have all fundamentally reconsidered what business essential really means. This is the silver lining of the pandemic – a reevaluation of the need for travel and face-to-face meetings, and a corresponding development (and acceptance) of videoconferencing technology. The Green Protocols are perfectly aligned with this fundamental rethinking. The protocols focus on behavioral change, in regards not only to air travel, but other wasteful activities such as the veritable mountains of paper that international arbitrations produce.
In one sense, as a boutique practice, my work has incorporated many efficiencies as a matter of necessity. For example, I do not have the same economic means as large law firms to print out massive reams of exhibits (and I certainly do not adopt the practice of charging clients for copies, a type of hidden charge that is inconceivable for a modern boutique practice, and is thankfully dying out in larger international law firms). I heavily leverage digital technology as a means of staying competitive, which has a side benefit of reducing waste. Committing to the Green Protocols takes this one step further, taking waste and CO2 emissions reduction from a side benefit to a long-term objective that goes beyond the bottom line for my firm and my clients.
It is often said that international arbitration derives its legitimacy entirely through a perception of fairness, and that virtue is the currency of our transnational legal order. This currency of virtue includes fairness, impartiality, neutrality, and equity – all of which are values inherent in our system of dispute resolution. I believe we are long overdue to add environmental awareness – and even urgent activism – to this currency of virtue. Environmental stewardship can only strengthen and further bolster the legitimacy of international arbitration as the leading system of international dispute resolution.
Eric Chang is the founder and Principal at Chang Law, a boutique practice focusing on international commercial arbitration and investor-state arbitration.