OsgoodePD program keeps lawyers, executives on cutting edge of ESG legal issues

An image of a lush city in the background of a dessert, and a logo of Osgoode professional Development

As the temperature rises on global heating, corporations are facing another potential danger: any attempt to misrepresent their environmental record could pose a serious legal risk, according to the co-directors of an Osgoode Professional Development (OPD) certificate program.

Allegations of so-called greenwashing pose a significant reputational hazard for businesses that over-promise and under-deliver on their environmental performance, especially as disclosure requirements intensify around a company’s carbon emissions, said Jason Kroft, co-director of OPD’s cutting-edge certificate program in ESG, Climate Risk and the Law, which will be offered next beginning Sept. 21.

ESG, which stands for environmental, social and governance, is a system for measuring the sustainability of a company or investments.

Kroft, a partner with Miller Thomson LLP, is co-chair of ESG and carbon finance with the Toronto-based law firm and co-leader of its structured finance and securitization practice. The program is also co-directed by Sarah Keyes, the CEO of Toronto-based ESG Global Advisors, and Lisa DeMarco, senior partner and CEO with Resilient LLP of Toronto.

“If ESG is on the minds of business leaders, it should be top of mind for those that advise and support such business leaders, including lawyers, accountants, consultants, management, government and many others,” noted Kroft.

“Attendees of this program,” he added, “will benefit from learning core substantive areas of law and policy related to ESG and will hear from leading experts on topics of interest in a range of relevant disciplines.”

ESG issues such as climate change and diversity, equity and inclusion are now front-of-mind in global capital markets, said Keyes. “With investors’ increased demand for transparency on ESG performance,” she added, “companies are responding to a growing flurry of policies, regulations and reporting and disclosure standards.”

As more investors engage in ESG-related activism, corporate directors are feeling the heat in the form of shareholder proposals, proxy voting and even litigation. Earlier this year, for example, the board of oil giant Shell plc was sued in a landmark UK court action for alleged mismanagement of the company’s climate strategy and its transition to a low-carbon economy.

“It’s important for corporate directors to pay attention and ensure they understand how ESG and climate change apply to their oversight role,” said Keyes.

Environmental issues also feature prominently in OsgoodePD’s part-time Professional LLM in Energy and Infrastructure Law, which includes core courses addressing changing legal trends in energy regulation and environmental protection.