Making Christmas bon-bons alerted this climate law superstar to industrial waste

Sarah Barker also discusses what she’ll bring from MinterEllison to her new role at Pollination

Making Christmas bon-bons alerted this climate law superstar to industrial waste
Sarah Barker

A side hustle making Christmas crackers served as a wakeup call to Sarah Barker on the reality of the problems of industrial waste, natural capital degradation and planetary boundaries.

Barker went on to build a practice around climate law, becoming MinterEllison’s global head of climate and sustainability risk governance. Recently, she made the call to transition to a role at investment and advisory firm Pollination.

In this interview, Barker discusses what drove her decision to join Pollination, her most important takeaway from her time at MinterEllison, and what she thinks is the key challenge in climate and sustainability risk governance.

What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

My parents will tell you…because I can argue (!). But it’s really because I love the discipline of considering problems from all angles – where the “solution” might not be immediately obvious.  My favourite part of the job is working with people across diverse professional backgrounds.  I love collecting different perspectives on the same issue!

What spurred your decision to move to Pollination?

I’ve been aware of Pollination and closely following their growth over the past five years and I’ve always had great interest in what they were doing. It’s such a strong idea – bringing together global expertise across law but also engineering, ecology, economics, investment advice and more, all in service of helping tackle the biggest challenges of our time – climate and nature.

When the opportunity came up it was too good to refuse, working within an organisation full of global thought leaders on the commercial risks associated with climate and sustainability – as well as the business solutions that are needed out there.

What is the most important thing you think you’ll bring to Pollination from your tenure at MinterEllison?

Well, firstly, I bring a quarter of a century of skills and training as a corporate lawyer at one of Australia’s premier commercial firms. I’m also bringing with me a team of other high performers who are used to working in concert to give high level advice to clients and are brilliant at staying ahead of the game when it comes to emerging trends and opportunities around climate and corporations law.

Finally, I think I’ve been fortunate enough to form strong relationships and carry out plenty of impactful work with some of the leading corporates in Australia and globally, whether it is financial institutions, resources or energy companies, manufacturers and more. Those relationships have been painstakingly built and I think they will stand me in good stead in my new home at Pollination.

What are the challenges you expect in your area of law, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

Our industry faces the same transformational challenges as the rest of the economy – how do we continue to thrive in the transition to a low-carbon and circular economy, how do we repair and restore the nature loss that has taken place around the world and which threatens our economic future? There are also some emerging challenges facing all lawyers and law firms in the basic nature of their everyday operations, such as what does AI mean for our practices? 

In climate and sustainability risk governance, the key challenge is staying abreast across the unrelenting pace of change, and sheer volume of developments.  The new climate-related mandatory financial reporting regime will be a key challenge for advisors and their corporate clients alike.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

The opportunity to work in collaboration with, and learn from, leading minds on all angles of climate and sustainability-related issues within the team at Pollination. Beyond that, I think the kind of conversations I’ll be able to have with clients will be quite different here. There is a fuller solution set than you typically would get at a pure law firm.

If you weren’t in law, what do you think you’d be doing as a career?

Well, many, many years ago I had a side-hustle making luxury Christmas crackers (bon-bons). That’s actually what opened my eyes to industrial waste, natural capital degradation and planetary boundaries, and the inevitability of the transition to a circular economy.  In the here and now - I think I’m doing exactly what I was meant to do and I wouldn’t change a thing.

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