Environmental awareness is not just a slogan that companies and associations use to flaunt their concern for green issues. It covers the entire spectrum of sectors, from gastronomy to fashion, from heavy industry to entertainment, from mobility to the energy sector. Not surprisingly, the European Union, for instance, has asked Member States to design their recovery plans so that 37% of their investments go towards green transition.
Italy is no exception. Inevitably, a number of new professions have also emerged in recent years to work in some way in the environmental sector. One in particular was seen as marginal until a few years ago, yet it is becoming increasingly important: the environmental lawyer, i.e. an attorney capable of properly interpreting EU, national and local legislation by serving businesses, individuals (rarely) and administrations seeking to comply with the relevant provisions.
“Italian environmental law is credited with having its origins in the first comprehensive water protection legislation in the 1970s”, explains environmental lawyer Enzo Pelosi, founder of the Pelosi Environmental Law Firm.
“It is a professional figure which has grown, especially in the last decade, partly spurred on by EU legislation. It is obviously a constantly evolving profession, reflecting the developing green economy, a new environmental awareness among the younger generations and climate change in general, all of which call for different and more appropriate environmental policies”.
Italian universities have begun designing and including study pathways and chairs on this subject in their programmes. Lawyers interested in joining this field can choose to attend a master’s degree course, usually a two-year course of at least 200 hours, to learn about the rules and acquire further specialisation.
Subsequently, however, the academic training must be linked to practice: this is the most delicate point, explains the lawyer Pelosi, the one that needs to be worked on the most because of constant developments in legislation and it is necessary to continue to train and update oneself day after day, truly learning the profession in the field.
“Unlike other branches of law, which are less dynamic in their more consolidated development,” explains the lawyer Pelosi, “in environmental law we are witnessing a proliferation of rules and an articulated system of sources of law with an increasingly incisive role entrusted to Community law. Therefore
Environmental lawyers should not only have specific, adequate and complex training in the field, but once trained they should also constantly update themselves
Not only must the environmental lawyer be adequately trained and constantly updated, but he or she must also have a great passion for environmental protection. From global issues, such as climate change, energy transition, ocean pollution, to those that have a smaller area of influence, but impact on people’s lives, such as air pollution or waste disposal.
The daily grind and professional experience
This is precisely why environmental lawyers are in constant daily dialogue with dozens of other professionals such as engineers, geologists and experts in environmental technology: they must be capable of engaging with personalities from other backgrounds.
Maria Cristina Breida, head of the environmental law department of the law firm Legance, explains: “The academic track must always be linked to a certain sensitivity to technical issues and to the communication skills of a lawyer”.
Because in our everyday work we may be confronted with very different realities. “One day you are talking to private individuals, companies, another time you are asked for advice on a specific detail, or perhaps you ask the lawyer to work on an environmental planning issue”, adds Breida, “which leads the lawyer to work alongside other professions to create added value for the company and the context in which it operates. The job therefore extends beyond mere compliance. It must also have a positive impact on business processes and the business environment”.
The state-of-the-art in Italy
According to Breida, Italy is quite receptive to this issue. That is because there has been a twofold acceleration in the last 25 years: first, an increasingly extensive body of regulations on the subject, which already existed, and a great deal of case law on the subject, with legislation; second, public awareness has also increased.
Maria Cristina Breida concludes by saying, “let’s take the business world, we know for example that not all realities are ready to transpose all the provisions on the subject. Maybe only the more structured ones are. But then smaller companies, once they realise how important it is to have a vision and planning for the green chapter as well, take a step forward and choose to invest in this sector. The Italian reality seems quite strong from a regulatory but also cultural point of view in this field“.