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The green(er) law practice: your firm can save money - and help save the planet - by conserving resources and taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Already on board? Try going for a deeper shade of green.


For a long time, "going green" was considered trendy. People who claimed to be part of the green movement were viewed as somewhat eccentric--they were "tree buggers" or "whale savers."

But recently, news about the environment has taken a very serious turn, with scientists, economists, and other experts issuing dire warnings about our warming planet. In a report last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal." (1) The report concluded that if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at current rates, the planet will only get hotter, causing ocean warming and changes in "continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes, and wind patterns." (2)

"Greening" is the process of changing your activities to conserve resources, reduce the stream of waste and pollutants, and lessen your overall impact on the environment. It's about individuals changing daily practices like buying locally grown food or taking a canvas bag to the store. It's about coworkers teaming up to change the way business is done. It's about governments investing in smart urban planning and renewable energy. It's about working together to advance the paradigm that a healthy economy depends on a healthy environment.

We can no longer sustain current patterns of consumption. At a certain point, undesirable changes in the natural systems that sustain us will occur whether we want them to or not. And as the only species on the planet endowed with foresight and planning capabilities, we need to anticipate change, embrace it, and channel it into better use and distribution of resources, better designs for buildings and cities, and better lives.

Greening is a personal and a community act. Every sector of the economy has a role to play, law firms included, and taking action will deepen understanding of the necessity--and many benefits--of going green. Indeed, the legal community is already beginning to act.

The Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) recently launched a program called "Lawyers Eco-Challenge--One Planet One Voice" to offer practical guidelines and begin a contest for law firms to reduce energy consumption. The MBA, which cites a Sun MicroSystems survey showing that 73 percent of workers want their employers to be green, believes lawyers should be leaders in the fight against global warming. (3)

The ABA's Environment, Energy, and Resources Section is running a "Law Office Climate Challenge" with the EPA. It includes three voluntary programs: WasteWise, in which participants manage office paper use and increase recycling; a Green Power Partnership that encourages firms to buy energy from renewable sources such as solar cells or wind farms; and the EPA Energy Star program, which incorporates an energy-management plan for law offices and a goal to reduce electricity use by at least 10 percent. (4)

The ABA will recognize law offices that meet participation requirements as Law Office Climate Challenge Partners, and for offices that participate in the Green Power Partnership or Energy Star program, the ABA will post the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions their actions avoided on its Law Office Climate Challenge Web site. (5)

Can your law firm go green? Of course. It may require some creativity to tailor your practice's efforts to office context and culture, capitalizing on strengths (Are your employees already environmentally savvy? Is the firm located near mass transit?) and identifying idiosyncratic "weaknesses" (Are your lawyers technophobic? Do you serve imported drinking water to impress clients?). But you can implement many green practices, starting small by putting a recycling bin next to the copier, then increasing your efforts--even going as far as making changes to the building itself.

Worker habits

First, look at your law firm from every angle, decide where and how to make changes, and put them into practice at a pace that makes sense for you. Start with small fixes, focusing on the people who help your practice run smoothly. Be sure to examine these areas:

The team. People are key. Walk through the office and take stock of current practices; seek input from all staff on problems and solutions, and start a "green team" to advise the firm and implement strategies. Make sure the team keeps coworkers in the loop about its efforts by, for example, sending a weekly status report by e-mail that shares the firm's goals and achievements. Educate everyone in the office--attorneys, support staff, even the cleaning service--about new practices. Knowing why you're trying to save energy and resources and what poses a potential environmental problem empowers staff to look for how to make changes.

Drinking water. Get rid of bottled water. U.S. tap water meets strict standards. (6) Only 10 percent of plastic water bottles are recycled in this country, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Every day, 30 million single-serve nonreturnable containers end up in landfills or as litter. (7)

If you don't like the taste of your local water, install tap filters. Many are certified to reduce a broad range of contaminants. Before you buy a filter, check to see if it is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation International for the particular contaminants you want to remove. (8) If you're concerned about more than taste and odor, get a water contaminant analysis report from your local water utility.

Getting rid of the water cooler also eliminates the waste of disposable cups. Give staff sports bottles as a reusable alternative and have tumblers on hand for clients. Don't forget to provide an area for the staff to wash dishes.

Water conservation. Install faucet aerators on sinks in kitchens and bathrooms to reduce water flow. An Energy Star dishwasher can save over 85 percent of the water you would use doing dishes by hand. (9) Consider getting waterless urinals; or toilets that use a biological process to break down waste into a dehydrated, odorless compost; or dual-flush toilets, which use less water for liquid wastes and full flush for solids.

Food. Purchase organic, fair-trade coffee and tea for firm use, and give the staff washable coffee mugs. If you buy food for office lunches and snacks, buy what you can locally and choose organic options.

When you cater events, consider using a local organic caterer and ordering less meat. Some studies show that raising and preparing animals for consumption uses more resources than growing plants?

Waste. Check local regulations for what is recyclable, and understand what your trash and/or recycling contract covers. (See Ease Your Paper Bloat on page 43.)

Try to stop using Styrofoam products and other throw-away items like paper plates and napkins and plastic cutlery. If you have to use disposable items, choose compostable or recycled-paper products.

To implement a recycling program, first elect a volunteer to coordinate it. Find out what can be recycled, estimate how much you will produce, and decide whether your office is big enough to hire a collection service or whether you will need to drop off recyclables at a local recycling company (this will also determine whether you can commingle items or must separate them). (11)

Replace some of the trash cans in your office with recycling bins--each clearly labeled--and give each staffer a personal bin to keep at his or her desk and empty as needed.

Hire a "green" cleaning company to keep your office looking pristine without exposing staff, clients, and cleaning crew to the harsh chemicals found in most commercial cleaning products. (12)

Keep other potentially toxic products away by asking your building's facilities management company to get bids from pest-control operators certified in integrated pest management--an effective, preventative, and least-toxic method of controlling indoor and outdoor pests.

Don't shy away from trial and error as you go green. You can negotiate with vendors and suppliers to make environmentally friendly options fit your budget. Consider forming a "green" purchasing co-op with other small law firms.

Lighting use. No doubt, you're confused about this. On one hand, you've been hounded since childhood to turn off the lights when you leave the room; on the other hand, you've been told that it takes more energy to turn an office light off and on than to leave it burning. You can relax. Mom and Dad were right: Turning off the lights when you leave is always a good idea because it can reduce total office lighting energy use significantly. (13)

Computer use. Screensavers were invented to prevent static images from burning into the screen--a problem with old cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors. Today, screensavers just use unnecessary energy to run (as much as the monitor uses to run itself). Right-click on your desktop, select Properties and the Screen Saver tab, then choose None.

Make sure computers and equipment are turned off at the end of the day--except what needs to remain on for automatic file back-up and security maintenance. Activate the standby functions on any Energy Star-labeled equipment.

The energy-saving standby mode switches the equipment to a low-power state and shuts down all unnecessary components. For example, a laptop computer will shut down the display screen and disk drive (both will return to life when you hit the keyboard or move the mouse).

Check the equipment instructions for how to set the standby mode to kick in after an appropriate number of idle minutes, perhaps 15 minutes for computer monitors and 20 minutes for printers and copiers. In standby mode, the applications and files remain open on your desktop, and you can set a prompt so the computer can't be awakened without a password.

"Hibernate" is another energy-saving option for long-term absences. This option will save what you're working on to a special file on the hard drive, then shut the computer almost completely off. Again, when you start it back up, you'll see everything exactly as you left it, but there will be a copy stored on the disc as well as the screen. (14) (You might want to set your laptop to go into hibernate mode when its battery power gets really low, so you don't lose files because you forgot to bring the power cord along.)


After making small changes, take a bigger step and move toward environmentally friendly and energy-efficient equipment.

Computers and office equipment. Your office equipment uses a lot of energy--you know this, since you pay the electric bills.

When you replace equipment, look for Energy Star-labeled products, including computers, monitors, printers, copiers, fax machines, and scanners. Most manufacturers make them. They cost the same as conventional models but have energy-saving features like powering down to use fewer watts or entering "sleep" mode (often called standby) when idle.

Recycle toner and ink cartridges (office supply stores may offer this service) and buy remanufactured ones. This keeps about 2.5 pounds of metal and plastic out of landfills per cartridge, ac cording to Office Depot. (15)

Consider laptops, which use a fraction of the energy that desktops do--as little as one-fifth the power. (16)

Substitute flat-screen monitors for CRT monitors, which can use up to three times as much power. (17) Affordable flat-screen liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors have better visuals, take up much less space, and use one-half to two-thirds as much energy. (18)

Lighting. Lighting accounts for up to 44 percent of electricity used in office buildings, including waste heat that needs to be removed. (19)

Look for Energy Star-rated light bulbs and fixtures. Consider installing occupancy sensors in conference rooms, offices, and restrooms. The sensors shut off and turn on the lights, using motion-sensing technology to determine when people are in the room.

Give staff some control over overhead lighting by installing dimmer switches, so the lights can be turned down at certain times of the day to take advantage of natural daylight, and employees can get rid of power-sucking desk lamps that they use because the overhead lighting system produces too much glare for them to comfortably view their computer screens.

If staff must have desk lamps, at least use energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. (20) You'll get more light from a 20-watt CFL than yon would from a 60-watt incandescent bulb, while using one-third the amount of energy.

Improve lighting quality by eliminating light sources that rank low on the Color Rendering Index (CRI), which measures a light source's ability to reproduce the colors of various objects it lights. Good lamps have a CRI above 80; excellent lamps, greater than 85. The T12 fluorescent tubes common in many offices have a low CRI, and the old-style magnetic ballasts that run the lamps flicker, adding to eye strain, fatigue, and lower productivity--not to mention higher energy bills. Eliminate this problem with modern "electronic" ballasts that also can dim lights according to available daylight or user preferences.

Utilities. Purchase "green power"--electricity supplied entirely or partially from renewable energy sources, such as hydropower and wind, solar, and geothermal power. As utilities markets open to competition, suppliers are increasingly offering electricity options to consumers. More than half of U.S. retail customers now have the option to buy green power directly from their electricity suppliers. (21)

Transportation. Another significant energy cost is getting to and from the office, courthouse, and clients.

Investigate carbon-offset options for staff travel. A number of commercial and nonprofit organizations offer carbon offsets that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in one place to offset what is released in another. You calculate your carbon footprint (how much greenhouse gas your activities produce), then give money to an organization that funds C[O.sub.2]-saving activities like tree planting, generating renewable energy, and methane capture.

There is now a $55 million commodities market that trades greenhouse-gas credits. This market is complicated, and offsets aren't regulated, but environmentalists say that effective offsets are the ones that cause some new reduction in emissions that wouldn't have occurred without the money you paid. (22)

Negotiate deals with car rental companies to rent only hybrid vehicles, or consider a business plan with a car-sharing program like Flexcar--currently available in several states and the District of Columbia. Flexcar parks low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles in designated spots--for example, near schools and workplaces or public transportation--and members can go borrow one whenever they need it for an hourly rate that includes gas, insurance, and maintenance. The company offers business rates so your employees can borrow a car to go to the courthouse or see a client, and there's even a "Green Membership" option that lets you offset the carbon dioxide emissions of driving. (23)

Come up with other creative incentives for mass transit, bicycling, or carpooling. For example, supply a secure place to store bicycles at the office, or negotiate access to shower facilities for riders. In most areas, state and local transportation departments can tell you about opportunities for using transit, biking, and walking as alternatives to long-distance car commuting. (24) Set up a carpool board in the office break room or on the firm's intranet.

If you're moving your firm to new office space or opening a new firm, keep thinking green when choosing a location. Look for descriptions of the area that include the terms "smart growth" or "sustainable development." These communities include clustered development that makes it easy to use travel options like bike lanes and trails, pedestrian walkways, and various forms of mass transit.

The biggest commitment to going green can require a large investment, but you may have moved far enough up the ladder to be ready for serious changes to the physical space you occupy. (See How Green Is Your Building? on page 40.) While green buildings are catching on and people are becoming more aware of the problem of global warming, we still have a long way to go before we can begin to undo much of the damage that has already been done. But even adult lawyers can take baby steps.

Start with a few doable changes, beginning with attitude. Recognize, for instance, that the small price increase for reams of 100 percent postconsumer recycled paper is really an investment, and better office management practices will offset the cost. Then transform your firm to a shade of green that makes everyone feel good--you, your staff, and your clients.

RELATED ARTICLE: How green is your building?

Many parts of the building you work in--the materials that the walls and floors are made of, the paint on the walls, the ventilation system, and the lights--may be detrimental to the environment and your health. But there are many ways to reduce your office's environmental impact, lower its operating costs, and improve your staff's productivity.

The U.S. Green Building Council certifies buildings using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor air quality. LEED certification is granted at four levels, some greener than others. (See

Twenty-seven states, 72 cities, 16 towns, and 22 counties have laws that require all new construction to be certified or that provide incentives for getting certified. By the end of 2007, the council had certified nearly 1,200 commercial projects.

One of this year's new green buildings will house the Romano Law Group in Lake Worth, Florida. The firm is set to move its offices to a new "living building" in June. John Romano, senior partner in the firm, said that building green from top to bottom costs from 2 percent to 6 percent more up front, but it will be less expensive than a conventional building after three or four years, due to lower utility bills and operating costs as well as tax breaks and other incentives.

Among the building's 123 environment-friendly features: Its exterior includes recycled brick. Its green roof captures and purifies storm water to be used for toilet flushing. "Gray water" from sinks and showers is used for irrigation. The elevator system runs on vegetable-based oil. Each office has its own temperature control, which saves energy and gives each employee a comfortable work space. Ninety percent of the parking is under the building. This reduces the "heat island" effect, which is caused when heat from the sun is absorbed by dark-colored objects or certain materials like metal.

Here are just a few areas in which you might be able to make your law office greener, too.

Materials. Whether you're building from the ground up or just replacing something in your office, you can choose green building materials and furnishings. Some types of drywall contain recycled materials. Carpets, paints, and adhesives typically emit harmful chemicals, even years after they are applied, but less toxic versions are available. For example, some paint manufacturers offer paints with no, or low, levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Countertops in bathrooms and kitchens can be replaced with materials that contain recycled content, such as glass bottles.

When buying wood materials, look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood (which is guaranteed to come from well-managed forests), or even reclaimed wood (which has already been used for another purpose, such as wood from an old barn). Bamboo, a rapidly renewable resource, is a greener alternative to wood flooring. (See www. for a list of building products.)

Energy. You (or your building's owner or manager) can check your building's energy efficiency rating at http:// You can reduce your energy consumption by installing Energy Star appliances and energy-efficient lighting. Designing the building and windows to maximize the use of natural light also reduces electricity demand.

For the energy you do consume, you can avoid heavy-polluting, coal-fired power plants and power your office by wind instead. Many electric companies offer the option to purchase renewable energy.

Water. Low-flow water fixtures help reduce water use. Outside, porous paving surfaces reduce water runoff by letting the water be absorbed into the ground rather than washed away into storm drains. A "green roof' includes plants that absorb water and reduce runoff; some collect the water to recycle it. Green roofs also reduce the building's heat-island effect by cooling the air rather than just absorbing heat, and a cooler roof reduces the building's demand for air conditioning.

Indoor air quality. Poor indoor air quality costs the nation tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity, according to the EPA. Sources of indoor air pollutants include building materials and furnishings, copy machines, and cleaning products. A good ventilation system must sufficiently dilute these pollutants.

Other considerations. If you're building new, choosing a previously developed site helps preserve undeveloped land. Locating the building near public transit reduces the number of cars needed for employees to get to work, as well as the amount of parking space needed.

Romano noted that potential clients have reacted favorably, making a connection between the firm's environmental stewardship and its willingness to take care of clients, their families, and their cases. "More sustainable buildings make for a better environment and, in turn, a better life," Romano said.


RELATED ARTICLE: Ease your paper bloat.

Law offices are paper-intensive places, typically using large quantifies of mixed office paper, colored paper, file folders, envelopes, and other products. Paper products are the single largest component of the garbage that goes into landfills and incinerators, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The pulp and paper industry consumes 42 percent of all wood harvested for industrial uses and is the largest industrial consumer of water--and generator of water pollution--in countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. According to the NRDC, substituting 40 cases of 100 percent postconsumer copy paper for the same amount of paper made from virgin pulp will save 24 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 4,100 kilowatt hours of electricity, and 60 pounds of air pollution.

Make choices

Like many other lawyers, you may be overindulging in your paper habit, but you can get it under control. The NRDC offers detailed strategies for paper conservation based on three basic principles--using less, recycling, and buying environmentally friendly paper. (See strategies.asp.)

The guidelines include tips like printing only what's needed (does the file really need two or three "just-in case" extra copies?), stocking the fax machine with paper already printed on one side, and buying printing and copying equipment that can do double-sided printing. Other suggestions for reducing paper waste include the following:

* Cut down on periodical subscriptions. Survey the office to see who subscribes to what, then trim duplicates and work out a sharing system, such as a cover sheet for each user to mark when he or she has finished reading.

* Reduce the amount of unwanted mail your firm receives. The National Waste Prevention Coalition provides a model postcard you can print and send to mailers to have your name removed from lists, as well as other suggestions for curbing business junk mail, at www. mail.htm. Or check out tips from New American Dream at www.newdream. org/junkmail.

* Always avoid paper made from 100 percent virgin pulp. Deforestation eliminates one acre of tropical forest every second.

* Understand paper recycling terms: "Preconsumer waste" is made out of paper scraps left over from the paper-manufacturing process that haven't yet been used; "postconsumer waste" (PCW) has been collected from end users to be reused. "Recycled" paper can be a mixture of virgin wood fiber and pre- and postconsumer waste, so look for PCW content. For example, the label "50 percent recycled, 20 percent PCW" would mean that half comes from virgin wood, 30 percent is preconsumer recycled, and 20 percent is postconsumer recycled. (See World Centric, www.worldcentric. org/store/paper.htm.) Buy paper with the highest percentage of PCW content available.

* Insist on "process chlorine free" (PCF) paper, which means the manufacturer has not bleached the paper or recycled fiber with chlorine or chlorine derivatives.

Go digital

Take advantage of electronic technology to eliminate paper. Train all staff to use the technology so that your firm can work on document drafts electronically, using "edit" and "comment" word-processing features.

Finally, there is no excuse for printing most e-mails. Attorneys are notorious for keeping e-mails lest they be requested by an opponent during discovery. Bloated e-mail systems, however, can become a problem.

The solution could be as simple as exporting e-mail messages to a personal file, then burning the data to CD-ROMs to archive it. Some archiving software will automatically compress and archive e-mails outside the e-mail system at intervals you set. These programs shrink mailbox size, but to the end user, messages still appear to be there and can be readily opened or searched at any time. (For additional tips on using technology to reduce paper waste, see Daniel J. Siegel, Taming the Paper Tiger, on page 60.)

By reducing the paper your office uses, you can help diminish the firm's contribution to a number of environmental problems, including global warming, clear-cutting of forests, air pollution from incinerators, water pollution from the paper-making process, and overflowing landfills.



(1.) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, in Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5 (Susan Solomon et al. eds., Cambridge U. Press 2007), www.ipcc. ch/ipccreports/ar4-wgl.htm.

(2.) Id. at 13.

(3.) See MBA Unveils the Lawyers Eco-Challenge (Jan. 8, 2008), initiatives/lawyers-eco-challenge.

(4.) See EPA & U.S. Dept. of Energy, About Energy Star, about.ab_index.

(5.) See The ABA-EPA Law Office Climate Challenge, overview.shtml.

(6.) See EPA, Ground Water & Drinking Water,

(7.) See minerals_pdf/waterbottles.pdf.

(8.) See Consumer Reps., Water Filters (May 2007), water-filters-5-07/overview/0507_filter_ov.htm?resultPageIndex= 1&resultIndex=1&searchTerm=water%20filters.

(9.) U.S. Dept. of Energy: Energy Star, Dishwashers 2007 Partner Resource Guide (Apr. 19, 2007), res/downloads/2007Dishwasher_prg.pdf.

(10.) See e.g. Carl Bialik, How Much Water Goes into a Burger? Studies Find Different Answers, Wall St. J. B1 (Jan. 11, 2008).

(11.) For guidelines on setting up an office recycling program, see asp?s=lib&a=brrc/RecyclingGuide.asp. See also EPA, Business Guide to Reducing Solid Waste, EPA/530-K-92-004 (Nov. 1993), epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/pubs/red2.pdf.

(12.) See

(13.) See EnergIdeas Clearinghouse Q&A, www.,g,ds&c=z,z,495.

(14.) Charlie Russel, Power Management in Windows XP (Mar. 25, 2002), windowsxp/using/setup/learnmore/russel_ 02march25.mspx.

(15.) See top201ist.asp.

(16.) See htm; see also Brian R. Harris, Buying and Using Greener Computers, Leg. Intelligencer (Dec. 7, 2007), ArticleLT.jsp?id=1196935475000.

(17.) Harris, supra n. 16.

(18.) Brett Burney, One Setting at a Time, 51 Leg. Tech. News (Aug. 2007).

(19.) See Go Green at Work, www.gogreensan

(20.) CFLs contain small amounts of mercury and should be disposed of properly. See www. light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf.

(21.) U.S. Dept. of Energy, Buying Green Power, shtml; see also About the Green Power Network (May 18, 2006), about/index.shtml.

(22.) See Clean Air-Cool Planet, A Consumer's Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers (Dec. 2006), GuidetoCarbonOffsets.pdf.

(23.) See

(24.) For a list of transportation departments by state, see Metro Magazine's Web site (covering the bus and passenger rail industry) at The "Transit" section of the Local Government Commission's Web site provides links about communities and transportation at

EVELYNE MICHAUT is sustainability project manager for EcoTech Americas in San Francisco. ROB WATSON is CEO of EcoTech International Group in New York City, which helps design and implement green buildings and smart-growth communities. TRIAL Associate Editor Rebecca Porter contributed to this article.
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Date:Apr 1, 2008
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