five photos of BLG community involvement activities


ESG at BLG: Lessons learned from inside the ESG journey at Canada’s law firm

BLG routinely advises clients on ESG risks and opportunities. To fully support others on ESG, we wanted to embed it in our internal culture and operations as well. This article documents our ESG journey and shares our steps, successes and lessons learned, with the goal of helping other professional services firms better serve their people, clients, communities and the planet.



“Back then we didn’t call it ESG. We just called it good business.”

In the early days, ESG was a Wild West of voluntary standards and inconsistent definitions, known by name to only a few industry insiders. At BLG, we were taking important steps to conduct our business responsibly and contribute to our communities, but we didn’t use the phrase environmental, social and governance. During this time, we became the first law firm in Canada to receive our ISO certification for information security, the first law firm in Canada to have a full-time role dedicated to diversity and inclusion and continued our tradition of award-winning pro bono work.

2010-2018 Highlights



“Clients began asking us what we were doing for ESG.”

Fast forward to 2019, and a dedicated group of BLG lawyers were having regular, frank conversations with clients about the ESG risks and opportunities in several areas, particularly investment management and M&A.

With climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and the finding of more than 200 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School mobilizing people across the globe, BLG continued to act. We established a mandatory anti-racism training program, founded an event for LGBTQ+ law students, signed the BlackNorth pledge and initiated a robust supplier ESG screening program. We performed a carbon baseline assessment—using 2019 data to avoid the anomaly of the pandemic skewing our data—in a format that we could update annually to track progress.

At the same time, some of our clients were considering ESG factors in their vendor selection and began asking us for evidence of our commitment to action, initially focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion and other “social” efforts and later asking about our carbon reduction work. In 2021, we started producing quarterly community involvement and wellness reports for client requests.

2019-2021 Highlights



“A baseline assessment is a benchmark to gauge progress.”

By the end of 2023, ESG had become a more mature framework with increasingly stringent legal requirements, standardized terminology and greater scope. Businesses were paying closer attention to risks in their supply chains, gaps in the data they were collecting and inconsistencies in reports produced for different stakeholders. Some organizations were using ESG assessments to make meaningful changes in business as usual. Others still saw ESG as little more than a compliance exercise.

At BLG, 2022 and 2023 saw us formalize our ESG commitment in several ways. The most important was our first ESG assessment, completed with the help of Hive Advisory Inc. You can learn more about the process below. But it wasn’t all we did; there were many other important ESG milestones at BLG in 2022-2023:

2022-2023 Highlights


"I commend the team at BLG for their commitment and openness to the discussions when the hard questions prompt reflection...BLG wholeheartedly cares.”

- Stefan Piech, CEO and managing partner, Hive Advisory Inc.

Identifying material risk categories

We started our ESG assessment at a time when increased political engagement, particularly in the U.S., meant activists were holding companies legally accountable for ESG claims while other influential stakeholders, including investors, penalized companies for being “too woke.” In the context of such contradictions, we wanted to be strategic and deliberate in our approach. Balance was our guiding principle.

The ESG steering committee began the assessment process by identifying material risk categories relevant to a law firm using the Sustainalytics framework. Then Hive Advisory helped us identify key performance indicators to measure our progress to date.

Given our industry, it was clear that governance—encompassing board composition, disclosure, compliance, professional integrity, ethics, and all things technology—was most important, with almost half of our KPIs falling into this category. One-third of our KPIs were considered social, focusing on people management, community relations and pro bono work. Just under one-fifth were classified as environmental—including resource use and the disclosure, reporting and reduction of Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (indirect) greenhouse gas emissions.

KPIs by ESG Area: 19.2% Environment, 33.3% Social, 47.5% Governance

Making the grade

Once we settled on metrics, Hive Advisory measured our performance. They used best practices in ESG standards, including those from the Global Reporting Initiative, Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, Corporate Knights Best 50 Methodology, and Climate Disclosure Standard Board, as well as comparative research to similar-sized professional services organizations.

The result was an 89-page ESG baseline report that began with an overall maturity score and ended with a detailed examination of 120 KPIs in seven core areas of BLG’s operations.

“It’s hard to show your data to a third party and open yourself to critique,” says Hive Advisory’s CEO and managing partner, Stefan Piech. “We treated BLG like a public company—which is where we do the majority of our ESG and related work—and I commend the team at BLG for their commitment and openness to the discussions when the hard questions prompt reflection. There’s something to be said for those who can criticize themselves and improve. BLG wholeheartedly cares.”

Lessons learned

Our first ESG assessment, like all things done for the first time, was a learning experience. Here are six tips for other professional services firms doing an ESG assessment, taken from what went well for us and what we’d do differently next time.

#1 Do your homework. 
Our consultant commended us for our rigorous work to identify the areas of material risk for a law firm; they plan to replicate this holistic approach in future engagements with professional services firms. Looking at publications from Sustainalytics, doing the materiality analysis and identifying our ESG categories before the assessment began created momentum before the consultants were involved and saved us time.

#2 Don’t forget ops.
Initially almost all the members of our ESG steering committee were partners of the firm, a decision that helped give the initiative credibility and strong sponsorship—two things our consultant agrees are critical to success. To create clear lines of communication, fill information gaps and ensure ESG was on their agenda, we quickly expanded the group to include representatives from the business side of the firm with responsibilities in each of the areas we were discussing.

#3 More isn’t always better.
We put in considerable effort to narrow the KPIs for each material risk category to only those that had the greatest relevance to our business. Having been through the process, we plan to reduce them further to truly focus on indicators that matter to a law firm and its clients.

#4 Collect data before the assessment begins.
Our carbon baseline assessment, conducted in 2022, helped us do much better on our greenhouse gas emission KPIs than if we hadn’t established a methodology for measurement and gathered data ahead of time. We asked our consultant to develop a tool we can use repeatedly in-house, an approach we’d also recommend to other firms doing this work.

#5 Be prepared for a deep data dive.
Because it was the first time we’d asked many of the questions posed by the assessment, data gathering was often onerous. We will streamline and systematize the process so decision-makers have the information they need to manage our risk factors without overburdening our staff.

#6 Think about your baseline assessment from the perspective of ROI.
Private companies that aren’t subject to mandatory ESG reporting may have difficulty convincing decision-makers that an assessment is important. Pitch the assessment as an investment that will demonstrate your organization’s strengths and a willingness to improve. For example, a company with proof of a strong governance framework, top-notch privacy and security and exemplary community relations will have an edge when it submits a proposal, enters discussions with a stakeholder group or engages in M&A discussions. An organization that takes an ESG assessment seriously will be at an advantage when it comes to recruitment and retention.



“ESG is never a destination. It’s an opportunity to invest and improve over the long term.”

For Canadian and international businesses, we are anticipating a few things for ESG this year.

Canada’s modern slavery legislation will prompt businesses to look more closely at their supply chains. Companies will play catch-up with the privacy, bias, workforce transformation and intellectual property challenges raised by AI. If we have another year of climate-related environmental disasters and heat waves, this will put pressure on employers and insurance companies to act. Emboldened unions may address ESG issues with direct worker impact at the negotiating table. We’ll see more assets allocated to ESG funds. And more organizations may return to using the word “sustainability” in place of or alongside the more controversial “ESG.”

At BLG, we’ll use our baseline assessment to establish priorities, identify targets, develop actions plans and allocate budgets for future improvements. With our 2022 carbon baseline assessment in place as a methodology and reporting structure, our priority for 2024 is establishing targets and putting governance in place to ensure we’re making progress on the ‘E’ category. Our operational teams will take on primary responsibility for our ESG work from BLG’s partners. We will fill some data gaps, for example, by collecting commuting data from our own people instead of relying on population data from StatsCan.

In the long term, it’s important to us to establish how we can effectively compare our progress to our peers. We envision working together as an industry to benchmark metrics like diversity and carbon emissions in the same way as we benchmark salary and recruitment statistics.

This is a journey shared by many, with opportunities to learn from, elevate and challenge each other along the way.

If you’d like to know more about BLG’s ESG work, have questions about our assessment or are interested in joining a benchmarking initiative for professional services organizations, feel free to reach out to John Vellone or any of the key contacts below.

Key Contacts