BonelliErede: “Our ESG mission goes far beyond solely compliance-related aspects”

BonelliErede’s president Stefano Simontacchi, its Cairo-based corporate partner Francesca Secondari, and its widely capable litigator Lazare Vittone talk to us about how the firm is approaching social responsibility afresh with its new ESG group.

Posted Monday, December 20th 2021
BonelliErede: “Our ESG mission goes far beyond solely compliance-related aspects”

Clockwise from top: Stefano Simontacchi, Lazare Vittone, Francesca Secondari

The following is an interview with three BonelliErede partners, one of whom is president of the firm, about its new 12-partner, multi-disciplinary ESG group.

Leaders League: ESG covers three key areas: environmental, social and governance. Could you tell us how each of these three areas will be tackled by the new group?

Stefano Simontacchi: The group’s mission is to go far beyond addressing solely compliance-related aspects. That’s why our service offering covers not only the three key areas covered by the acronym ESG but also the three pillars that we consider ESG enablers: sustainable finance, monitoring and reporting, and dispute resolution. Let’s look at these in turn:

  • Environmental: We focus on technological advances that facilitate the switch to more sustainable energy and reduce the carbon footprint. We leverage the vast expertise of our Energy & Ecological Transition, Environmental Sustainability and Digital Innovation focus teams – especially in driving hydrogen-based, green logistics and renewable energies projects to success.
  • Social: We help businesses engender an ESG approach throughout their supply chains, build employee-focused projects, engage stakeholders, and adapt their codes of ethics, codes of conduct and other policies. More broadly, it’s about helping businesses strengthen their ESG identity through all manner of projects – including linked to art and culture. We mainly leverage on the expertise of our Corporate Governance Focus Team, but our Corporate Compliance & Investigations, Luxury and Art & Cultural Property focus teams provide key support too.
  • Governance: We dig into the nitty-gritty of pursuing ESG-oriented goals from the perspective of the duties (and liabilities) of directors. Core to this is helping businesses draw up management incentive plans, structure sustainability committees, and design how they interplay with other corporate bodies. Digital transformation and cybersecurity are also, of course, crucial to effective and efficient corporate governance. In this area, we mainly leverage the expertise of our Corporate Governance Focus Team, but again, we also draw on the experience and expertise of other focus teams, such as Corporate Compliance & Investigations and Digital Innovation.
  • Sustainable finance: We advise on both equity (ESG-oriented M&A, sustainable IPOs and the like) and debt (green bonds, ESG derivatives and sustainability-linked loans).
  • Monitoring and reporting: We help businesses draft and gain approval of non-financial reports, issue price-sensitive communications involving non-financial data and ESG matters and, more generally, draw up non-financial disclosures with a view to potential liabilities arising.
  • Dispute resolution: Climate change litigation is on the rise around the world, and authorities are strengthening their controls in this area. Businesses thus need to be fully prepared for possible disputes – and we can help them be exactly that.

 

The new group takes a multidisciplinary approach that addresses all legal aspects, from the development of ESG policies to their approval and implementation across the entire life cycle of a given project.

 

The group is spearheaded by 12 partners. Is this not a very large number for streamlined decision-making on a set of issues that are rather urgent?

Francesca Secondari: It may seem so on the face of it. But the reality is that bringing each partner’s specific but complementary expertise and know-how into a single group means that we are able to offer a cohesive, holistic view of a given project and address the myriad of aspects – many highly complex – connected to ESG in the most efficient and effective way possible. In fact, the main strength of our ESG group is precisely our multidisciplinary approach – our ability to draw on the vast experience of our many focus teams and practice areas in assisting businesses in ESG-related matters.

The firm’s Corporate Governance Focus Team, of which the group is an offshoot, helps the group develop its strategic direction and oversees the group’s work.

 

Could you give us some concrete examples of how BonelliErede is planning to “walk the walk”, and not simply “talk the talk”? Or any concrete examples of how it has already done this before the creation of this group?

Francesca Secondari: Our comprehensive ESG service offering is the result of years of field experience and research. We’re true believers in the importance and value of ESG in business and are committed to supporting advancement throughout the business world. We are very aware of the evolving nature of the field of ESG and how difficult it can be for businesses to keep up.

That’s why we’re conducting a survey on ESG best practices in Italy – the different approaches in different sectors and differently sized businesses. We’ll share our learnings on our ESG Insight platform and hold a series of client events to gain further insights and promote best practices.

 

There is much talk in general about how ESG impacts finance, dealmaking and governance, but much less talk about how ESG can be incorporated into litigation. How will BonelliErede’s new ESG group interface with litigation?

Lazare Vittone: It is precisely because we see litigation playing a crucial role that dispute resolution is one of the six key areas covered by our ESG group. BonelliErede is the top Italian law firm in litigation, and all the knowledge and experience of our dispute resolution experts is at the ESG group’s disposal.  

In terms of the types of ESG-related disputes, from the recent decisions in Holland, Germany, France, Belgium, Ireland and the US, we expect mainly class actions to be brought against private companies and the Italian government for failure to take appropriate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We also expect a rise in greenwashing cases, which our IP team already has extensive experience in handling. And considering that most companies will seek to get an ESG rating from special agencies or intermediaries, we also foresee the possibility of litigation against rating agencies.

Last, but by no means least, as international treaties are a key part of ESG legislation, we also expect to see an increase in cases for breach of the treaties.