On April 2nd, I attended the Legal Marketing Association's breakout session, "Going Green: What You and Your Firm Can Do to Help Save the Planet." Initially, I was not scheduled to attend this session, but I was recruited by Alvidas Jasin, the Director of Business Development at Thompson Hine and the program's presenter. I was not sorry that he'd dragged me into the session, because what followed was an informative, entertaining look at how law firms and individuals can "go green."
Alvidas first determined by a show of hands that three people in the audience had an internally branded green program at their firms, with two of these also branding externally. To start, he gave the group some motivation for "going green," based on Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Explaining that the earth's average temperature is 59 degrees, compared with -67 on Mars, 333 on Mercury, and 855 on Venus, Alvidas said that the higher temperatures of the other planets can be attributed to their proximity to the sun, but also the density of the planet's atmosphere. In terms of the earth, as carbon dioxide concentrations grow, the atmostphere becomes more dense and traps radiation that was previously able to escape. Because of this, 22 of the hottest years on record have occurred during the last 25 years. Though warming and cooling trends are not uncommon, they normally occur over millions of years, not 50 years. Scientists feel that because of the latest warming trend, there will likely be no snow or ice on the North Pole as soon as 2013 - only four years. On the South Pole, there is 1 1/2 miles of snow and ice, but the increase in temperature is causing chunks of this snow and ice to break off, crash into the ocean and raise sea levels.
Contributing to the increasing levels of CO2 is that 75% of electricity comes from fossil fuel plants and there has been an overall increase in the earth's population. It took 162,000 years to reach 1 billion people on earth. In the following 2000 years, this grew to 6.5 billion people. At this rate, there will be 9.1 billion people on the planet by 2050, when we are struggling to find adequate resources already. In terms of CO2 output, the United States is twice as bad as the next worst offenders, Russia.
However, with all of this bad news, Alvidas quickly added that the good news is that the technology already exists to help combat this problem. He focused on individual suggestions, as well as what law firms can do. For individuals:
1. When purchasing your next car, look at hybrids or cars that have better fuel efficiency.
2. Maintain your vehicle, because the better a car runs, the more fuel-efficient it is.
3. Take advantage of public transportation.
4. Drive the speed limit - 60 MPH is the optimal speed for best fuel efficiency.
5. Fill the dishwasher before running it.
6. Use cold water when laundering clothing.
7. When traveling, use towels more than once, as you would at home.
8. When taking a short trip, leave the do not disturb sign up for the whole trip, to avoid daily cleaning and changing of linens.
9. Take showers that are 2 minutes shorter - just 2 minutes can make a big difference.
10. Replace air filters in your home.
11. Wear a sweater instead of automatically turning up the heat.
12. Turn off your home computer at night, as well as other electronic appliances. Alvidas suggests that if it has a power button, it should be turned off whenever you're not using it.
13. Use energy efficient lightbulbs - old lightbulbs are 90% inefficient.
So why are law firms going green? Because their clients are. Law firms are seeing an increase in the requests for green programs when answering an RFP, even more so than questions about diversity. How can law firms go green?
1. Turn off all lights, computers and printers in the office at night. There has been no proof that doing this causes extra wear and tear on computers. Alvidas also suggested turning printers off unless you are using them, because they sit idle most of the time.
2. Check http://www.papercalculator.org to see how much paper the firm is using on average. They estimate that an average lawyer kills nine trees a year with paper usage.
3. Print double-sided where possible.
4. Go electronic - send communications and documents via email instead of printing them out.
5. Have the attorneys and staff bring in their own utensils instead of having plastic utensils available.
6. Switch to foam soap in the washrooms - it uses less water to rinse.
7. Put together a committee who can brainstorm ideas on how to "green" the office.
8. Set up a competition among the floors or offices at a law firm to see who can use the least power. Check electricity bills to choose a winner.
9. Buy office supplies with less packaging and buy local to reduce the firm's carbon footprint.
The Massachusetts Bar Association also offers a number of tips for "going green," so Alvidas recommended that firms interested in creating a green program look to them for suggestions - http://www.massbar.org. He is also willing to speak at law firms at no cost, except to cover his travel and accommodation. Those of us who attended his session would highly recommend him!
He closed the session by reminding everyone that many of the tips to go green are easy and cost effective. For those that might require a little more sacrifice, it's all in how you look at it.
If you'd prefer to read my thoughts in 140 characters, see the list of my tweets from the green session below:
Am in the green session - 3 ppl in the room have an internally branded green program. Only 2 branded externally. #LMA