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ESG Risks and Opportunities: The Focus at William Fry CounselConnect Event


At William Fry’s mid-year CounselConnect event on 10 May, Bryan Bourke (Co-Chair of William Fry’s ESG & Sustainability Practice Group) opened the “What’s on your Board’s Agenda for 2022″ panel session with an acknowledgement of “the juggernaut that is the Environmental, Social and Governance agenda”.  The session went on to discuss present and upcoming ESG issues for companies, which Bryan noted had “become more importan partnert for boards, not just as matters of regulation and compliance, but also as matters of reputation management”.  

The session focused on demystifying the current ESG buzz and on breaking down the legal and commercial imperatives for managing ESG risks. The panellists discussed the impacts in 2022 for both public and private companies, with Ronan Shanahan (partner, Corporate/M&A) taking delegates through the wide-ranging and highly impactful disclosure rules in the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive.  Ronan emphasised the importance of progressing compliance preparations well in advance of the first reporting period, expected to be FY2023.   

Catherine O’Flynn (partner & head of William Fry’s Employment & Benefits Practice Group) and Nessa Joyce (knowledge lawyer, Funds & ESG) discussed the legal and regulatory frameworks in both the ‘E’ and ‘S’ spaces.  Commenting on the new Gender Pay Gap Information Act, which sits firmly in the ‘S’ space, Catherine highlighted that it will “for the first time provide for a structured and steady flow of information on what is happening in individual businesses and raise awareness of the issue”.  Organisations were encouraged to take steps now, to ensure they have up to date information on employees including gender, frequency of pay, rate of pay, weekly/monthly working hours, any bonuses paid. 

Gail Nohilly (Knowledge Lawyer, Litigation & Dispute Resolution) spoke about the potential causes of action in ESG-related litigation which “has increased globally in recent years”.  Gail spoke about possible directors liability, and the need for businesses to be aware of ESG-related litigation risks.     

The day also featured John Slattery’s session on successful networking, which looked at the importance of connections and the building of personal, strategic and operations networks.  

The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is part of the EU Sustainable Finance package which aims to support implementation of the European Green Deal and the achievement of EU climate targets.  The Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 provides the legislative basis for gender pay gap (GPG) reporting in Ireland and was signed into law in July 2021. Regulations requiring employers to publish GPG information are awaited.  

If you have queries on GPG reporting, CSRD or the range of other legislative measures in the EU Sustainable Finance package, or ESG more generally, please contact any of the panellists, a member of the ESG & Sustainability Practice Group or your usual William Fry contact.