Everywhere you go, you hear about going green. Nearly every newspaper and magazine offers tips on going green or selecting green items to purchase. There are green cleaning products, green foods, and green building materials. And, of course, there are green ways of doing things. In this presidential election year, we are even hearing: “Who would be the best green president?” So, are law firms immune from going green? No! It’s time for law firms to step up and make efforts to go green.
There are obvious reasons for going green. We want to be socially responsible, and we want to make our world a better place to live—for us, our children, and for future generations. Even if you are cynical and don’t believe in global warming or other reasons to go green, there are also business reasons for going green. The main one is that your clients may expect it. Many corporations and organizations are making significant efforts to go green; they will set the standard for what they expect from those they work with, including their chosen counsel. The next time you are involved in a beauty contest with a new client (or even an existing client), can you tell them that you are committed to creating a sustainable environment?
But how will we do it? How can we make a difference? I asked a group of law firm administrators recently what they were doing in their firms to go green. The response around the room was virtually the same: “We’re a law firm. We’re paper intensive. That’s not going to change.” The group admitted that, for the most part, all they are doing to go green is recycle their paper. Many of them are not even recycling cans or bottles. I think we can try harder.
What can we do as law firms or individual attorneys or staff? As you’re reading these items, you might be thinking: “We lease. We don’t own. We have little control.” You actually have a lot of control. Your building manager should already be looking for ways to go green and support your efforts. Together you can make a difference and work toward going green.
Here are a few things you can do right now:
Recycling and Eco-conscious Buying
· Recycle. Recycle. Recycle. In each office/cubicle, have a two‑bin trash can—garbage goes in one bin and recyclable items (paper, plastic, cans, and bottles) go in the second bin. Work with your building manager to create the best plan. Many buildings do not require you to separate your recyclable items.
· Recycle your shredding. If you use a shredding service, that should happen automatically, but you may want to verify with your shredding service. If you shred in-house, put the shredded paper in an appropriate recycling container.
· Buy recycled paper, and don’t limit it to your copy paper. The next time you order letterhead, make the switch. Don’t forget about your envelopes. Buy envelopes that are made with recycled paper.
· Use remanufactured toner cartridges for your printers and copiers. We used to hear that buying remanufactured cartridges would void a warranty, but that’s pretty rare these days. Check first to be sure. Whether you use new or remanufactured cartridges, make sure to recycle them. This is usually a postage-paid service, and you might even receive a credit.
· Make sure to buy or lease printers that have duplexing capability. Then, set your copiers and printers to print two-sided as the default. For existing printers, many offer inexpensive duplexer add-on units. Think of all the postage you’ll save, too.
· Think green with your office supplies. There are recycled content supplies, such as pens, pencils, highlighters, and sticky-notes. Consider refillable pens, rewritable disks, and rechargeable batteries.
· Order supplies in bulk. This reduces the number of trips required from the office supply company, and it often reduces the number of cardboard boxes delivered.
· There are earth-friendly options for office furniture. Does the wood in your furniture come from a sustainably harvested forest? Or maybe it’s reclaimed wood? Look for furniture made with recycled metal and plastic.
· Donate or recycle old cell phones or PDAs. Domestic violence shelters are always looking for old cell phones.
· Get rid of those plastic bottles of water. Put in a water filter system instead. You can get hot or cold water, and the water is likely to contain less bacteria and fewer chemical contaminants than bottled water. We found that 45 people at our firm were going through nearly 200 bottles of water each day.
· Switch to fair-trade coffee and tea.
· Are you still using Styrofoam or paper cups? Eliminate them or reduce their use by having coffee mugs and glasses available at all coffee and water locations. Reduce the use of paper plates and plastic utensils by buying silverware and washable plates. How many times have you broken that plastic fork or knife while eating? Problem solved.
· For the cleaning items you purchase, look for biodegradable cleaners and soaps, and encourage your building manager to do the same. Use chlorine-free or unbleached paper products. Even better, use cloths for cleanups, and have them laundered for reuse.
· Bring in more green plants. Most of us work in office buildings with somewhat stale air. We will get a little more oxygen with some green plants around the office.
· Ask your vendors if they are getting “greener.”
Green Power and Reducing Electricity Usage
· Sign up for the Windsource program from Xcel Energy. This program is available for both business and residential customers, so encourage your employees to sign up as well. Though the cost per kWh is higher than that of natural gas or coal power, the standard fuel cost is credited back on your bill. With prices for fossil fuels increasing, the net difference is quite small. Also, if your firm is in a multitenant building and not billed for power directly, it can still commit to renewable energy by purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs) through other programs, such as Community Energy (http://www.newwindenergy.com).
· Turn off your lights. During the day, if you’re going to a meeting, turn off your office light. Sure—at first people might think you decided to leave early to hit the golf course, but they’ll soon figure it out and start turning off lights, too.
· Install sensors in rooms that are not used frequently, such as restrooms, so lights automatically turn off when no one is around.
· Speaking of lights, have your incandescent light bulbs been replaced with energy-efficient bulbs, such as compact fluorescent bulbs?
· Change your computer setting so it goes to standby or hibernation mode when it’s not in use.
· Turn off your computers, printers, copiers, and other equipment at night. It’s incredible how much energy is used (wasted) by leaving your computer equipment on 24/7. NOTE: for remote access in some firms, you may need to keep your computer on when you are not in the office, but check to see if there is an energy-saving setting on your computer. Also, make sure your monitor(s) go into sleep mode—don’t use a screensaver.
· There have been many developments in reducing energy use in IT equipment and datacenters. Talk to your IT department about server virtualization and consolidation; switching (eventually) to energy-efficient servers, desktops, and UPS systems; setting desktop computer power settings firm-wide; and other options available for reducing power usage. Also, take a look at your air conditioning setup—you may not only have an old, inefficient system but also one that continuously runs tap water through it and into the drain, wasting thousands of gallons of water.
· Don’t forget about electronic billing, both from your vendors and to your clients. Are you paying any bills electronically?
· Give your employees an incentive to take the bus by subsidizing their MetroPass. Our firm provides a MetroPass to each staff member at no cost to them. It is a well-received benefit. Look for your state tax credit if you implement this.
· Ride a bike. If you live close to the office, hop on a bike. Two of our attorneys regularly ride their bikes to the office. We put locks on their office doors so they could get dressed without having to use the restrooms. (Someday we’ll install a nice shower/changing room.)
· Do you really even need to get to the office? Can you work from home? If all your client files are electronically stored and you have the technology setup, you can easily write that brief from home. Don’t waste the gas.
· Get rid of your space heater, and wear more layers.
And, finally, let’s talk about paper. Don’t print everything. Ohmygoodness. Did I say that? Yes! Believe me, that’s really difficult for me, and I know it’s difficult for many people in law firms. We don’t need hard copies of all documents. While we need a complete copy of a client file, that does not mean that we need a complete paper file. As you work through your document filing and retention plan, think about ways to eliminate hard copies. Here are some paper use considerations:
· If you insist on printing e‑mails for the client file, print the last e‑mail of the thread instead of all e‑mails in a threaded e‑mail conversation.
· Review documents on your computer screen instead of printing them and then reviewing them. Our office recently moved to dual computer monitors for everyone. I used to print an e‑mail or other document just so I could review it while drafting another document. Even if you stay with one monitor, though, it’s easy to switch between screens.
· Request electronic copies of newsletters, and don’t print them.
· Don’t print your faxes. Instead, have them forwarded to you through your e‑mail system. You may need to upgrade to a digital fax machine.
· Send interoffice e‑mails, rather than interoffice hard‑copy memos.
· If you’re working on a team, send draft documents to your team members as an electronic link, asking them to make revisions directly on the electronic document with the red-lining feature instead of making hard copies of the document.
· Scan. Scan. Scan. There are very few things you need to keep in a hard copy if you have an electronic copy. Three of our four copiers have eCopy installed, which is a sophisticated scanning solution. Even with that, we’ll soon be installing individual scanners at each LAA desk to make it more convenient to maintain all client documents in electronic format.
The Energy Challenge
Planning for the future? If you are moving to new office space or remodeling, buying office furniture, or making some other significant change to your office environment, it’s a good time to think about other ways to go green. You can go green by selecting green furniture, carpeting, and wall coverings. If you really want to make a difference, considering hiring a “green consultant,” especially for an office relocation or new buildout.
Law firms around the country are working on becoming more eco-conscious. Sixty-one firms (as of April 16) have committed to the ABA-EPA Law Office Climate Challenge. This challenge encourages energy efficiency at law firms by following the EPA’s recommendations. To learn more about the Climate Challenge, visit www.abanet
I challenge us all to take steps to make our firms green. Even if your firm is not willing to commit to going green, as an individual you can still make a difference. And, as you’re working on making changes in your work environment, consider what changes you can be making at home, too. I know at Greene Espel, we’ll be working a little harder to be a different kind of “green.”
The next time I ask a group of law firm administrators and attorneys what they are doing to make their firms greener, I hope I’m bombarded with answers, rather than excuses.