Oregon State Bar Bulletin APRIL 2014
Going sustainable may not initially save both resources and money, but at least in one everyday instance, it did for Tonkon Torp.
“We noticed that many of our employees were going out to local coffee bars before work or on their breaks, buying coffee drinks for $3 to $5, and bringing them back to the office in paper cups,” says Max M. Miller Jr., a partner in the firm. “During our most recent remodel, we had an espresso machine installed along with our own small coffee bar.” The firm also hired a Portland State University student to work as a barista from about 7 to 9:30 every morning, and the machine is then self-serve for the rest of the day.
“We charge ourselves 50 cents per drink, and all drinks are served in durable mugs or espresso cups,” he notes.
Practical and relatively painless steps such as this illustrate that little things can go a long way when the goal is to have less of an impact on the environment. Law firms across Oregon of every size, from one-person to the largest, are making changes in the way they do business.
All say that lawyers and firms can make a difference, whether their approach is simple and gradual or whole-hog, such as achieving certification for meeting specific and detailed criteria through a special bar program.
When one thinks of reducing waste and the use of natural resources in relation to law firms, the first subject that pops to mind is paper. So not surprisingly, reducing and recyling paper was the first — and continues to be prominent — among law firms’ sustainability efforts.
But individuals and firms also are going beyond that with many creative ideas to lighten their environmental footprint.
‘It Becomes A Lifestyle’
In the late 1980s, a handful of people at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt began practicing and promoting paper recycling within the firm. They initially encountered more obstacles than encouragement.
“We got a lot of resistance at first,” admits Carmen M. Calzacorta, then one of the instigators and now a partner. The building owners thought recycling was a fire hazard, firm members disliked having to separate paper colors and haul paper downstairs, and firm attorneys who represented forest products companies said recycling would “put people out of work,” she recalls.
Today, Schwabe’s metamorphosis is complete: It promulgates a list of sustainability practices as long as your arm, testifying to the broad support of both firm members and management, and Schwabe has been a recipient of a bar section award for sustainable leadership.
Tonkon Torp’s initial sustainability efforts beginning a decade later than Schwabe’s ran up against similar stumbling blocks. Miller, also a pioneer among Portland lawyers in encouraging his and other firms to become more sustainable environmentally, says he and a few others who established what at first was called the firm’s Green Team had to operate without management approval, in guerillalike fashion.
“There was strong concern among some partners that if the community perceived us as ‘green,’ ” clients such as utilities and the timber industry might be put off by the image, he explains. But after the Green Team changed its name to the Sustainability Committee — and especially after recycling and other efforts over the next two or three years saved the firm money — management warmed to the idea of reducing waste and lessening members’ daily impact on the environment, he says.
“Once you get in the routine, it becomes a lifestyle,” observes Kristine M. Thomsen, administrator of Lindsay Hart. “Now it all seems just normal to us.”
The firm buys 100 percent recycled paper and gives preference to unbleached paper, from bond to legal pads, envelopes to paper towels. In addition, she has seen how electronics can reduce the need for business travel: “Several of my attorneys have Skype conferences with experts, where they can discuss documents, situations, opinions, etc. What a time saver, money saver and pollution saver!”
By written policy, each new member of Lindsay Hart receives education about how the firm places a priority on sustainability, she says. The firm also runs an ongoing sustainability advisory group that meets on a regular basis to determine goals and to make progress reports to the management committee.
Other measures it has implemented include:
- Using remanufactured printer cartridges
- All office equipment is Energy Star-rated, and computer equipment must have the highest ratings from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool
- Cleaning supplies purchased by firm are low in toxicity and high in biodegradability
- Selecting catering services that minimize disposables and give preference to organic and local food
- Minimizing paper is a priority in data storage, printing and copying, communication and mailing
- Replacing disposable items such as cups, plates and utensils with reusable durable products
- Recycling paper, bottles, cans and glass
- All office supplies that are still usable are organized, refurbished and redistributed for reuse
- Placing electronic equipment on standby mode when not in use during the day and turning it off at night, and lights turned off when not in use
The firm also urged its landlord on, and now the building owners are seeking LEED certification. The owners also offer tenants free collection and recycling of anything electronic, as well as batteries. When tenant improvements are made, Lindsay Hart asks that materials be used that are the least hazardous and most natural. It gives preference to reused, recycled, recyclable or biodegradable, certified sustainable, durable and local materials.
“In representing a strong commitment to our environment, we are challenging our business partnerships, clients and competitors to join us in becoming a more sustainable office,” the policy states. James P. McCurdy, a lawyer with the firm, adds: “It demonstrates the spirit of the firm: blazing the trail for other folks.”
Making It Fun
Law firms wondering if meeting set sustainable practices criteria is too daunting need not fret: Markowitz, Herbold, Glade & Mehlhaf, the 2013 Sustainable Future Section’s “Law Office Sustainable Leadership Award” honoree for most innovative practice, received that recognition not by imposing the wearing of hair shirts, but rather by trying “to make things fun and easy for employees” and avoiding being “overbearing,” says Kelly Shannon, records manager for the firm.
Perhaps in keeping with her name, Shannon heads the firm’s Saving the Green Committee and edits its weekly electronic internal newsletter. It offers tips for enhancing sustainable practices both in the office and at home. Uncomplicated measures such as providing recycling boxes by desks help influence people to make better choices, she points out.
The firm also awards sustainability “scholarships” to inspire and reward employees for being sustainable outside the office, a creative move that has attracted others’ attention.
“The firm created a grant that employees could apply for to receive a stipend to accomplish something sustainable in their personal lives,” explains Jennifer L. Gates, a lawyer with Landye Bennett Blumstein who chairs the Oregon State Bar’s Sustainable Future Section. “This is an exciting example of a firm being willing to reach outside the boundaries of the office to re-enforce sustainable living.” Examples of projects the stipends have funded include home composting and rain gear to support bike commuting, she says.
In addition, Markowitz Herbold:
- Offers free TriMet passes as well as Zipcar memberships to employees
- Provides a volunteer “bicycle liaison” to help new bike commuters with route information and cycling best practices
- Provides durable, reusable dishware for employee use and during firm-sponsored events
- Maintains recycling facilities in the office for paper, metal, plastic, glass, compost, toner cartridges, batteries and cork
- Hosts an annual sustainability lunch for employees, to highlight the firm’s environmental achievements
- Purchased renewable energy certificates from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation
In an expanded example of Tonkon Torp’s coffee approach, the family-law firm Stahancyk, Kent & Hook planted a garden and hired an in-house chef in efforts to reduce lunch trips and takeout waste, as well as to offer firm members and staff more healthful options for work meals. The firm’s website even features favorite in-house recipes.
Personally and Professionally Committed
Many attorneys come to sustainability out of personal conviction. Mark J. Lang, a sole practitioner in St. Helens, says being raised in a small, remote town influenced him not to waste resources. After he helped his father, a nurse practitioner in California, set up an electronic medical records system in his practice, Lang was inspired to do the same thing in his own law office.
Awhile back he spotted an article about the Sustainable Future Section and its Partners In Sustainability program, and “it really sparked my interest,” he says. “The idea of being a part of the sustainability movement interests me.”
Lang received a discount from a company for being a member of the OSB and began using Clio, a cloud-based law firm practice management software system. It allows him to keep everything organized and reduces his use of paper and overall operating costs.
A related benefit was the availability of electronic filing in Clatsop and Columbia counties, where he practices. “I find it helps significantly,” he says. “It helps in terms of less waste. You don’t have to put out things to file.”
Klamath Falls sole practitioner Richard Fairclo also achieved both satisfaction and cost reductions. “When I decided to join the (Sustainable Future) section for the purpose of being more environmentally sustainable, I reviewed the policy I was drafting and implementing and noticed the savings and costs,” he says.
He simplified his office practice by using a contract paralegal and a building with a shared receptionist. He bought a relatively inexpensive printer that prints on both sides of the paper.
“I do a lot of drafting, so this is significant paper and cost savings for me,” Fairclo says. “For some reason, my Word for Mac program does not allow me to print on both sides of the paper, so I utilize a trick of converting Word documents to PDF while still in the computer — a Mac ‘print’ feature — and when I open the new PDF document in ‘preview,’ I can print on both sides of the paper. I draft a lot of documents and some pleadings. Reviewing documents, mailing to clients and service of process with both sides printed can cut the paper needed in half.”
The printer also scans documents, which helps to keep paper use lower. Recycling the ink cartridges is no problem at his local Staples. He recycles a significant amount of paper, which saves him on the building’s garbage fee. Whenever possible, he emails documents and employs electronic filing and electronic signing to further reduce paper, mailing and printing costs.
“The only item I recall right now that costs more for me is purchasing paper that is recycled,” Fairclo says. “I am confident the other practices make up the difference in costs.”
Sole practitioner Diane Henkels views both her practice and her participation in helping the OSB move toward endorsing sustainability as “part and parcel of my sustainability mission.” Henkels, who practices in Newport and the mid-Oregon Coast as well as in Portland, says her time spent overseas, including in the Peace Corps, helped open her eyes to the importance of conserving resources. For the past two years she hasn’t owned a car, and instead car shares and rides a bicycle.
As for her practice, it always has been related to sustainability in some way or another, she says. Most of her clients come to her for her expertise in energy, clean technology and American Indian law, but “a few clients have most definitely chosen me because of” her commitment to, and knowledge about, sustainability.
Miller, of Tonkon Torp, bases both his law practice and his activism in his firm and the community on the principal of sustainability. He counsels businesses and investors on environmental compliance, permitting and cleanup. Colleagues say he has been instrumental in bringing about the sea change in community and corporate attitudes toward the goal of sustainable practices.
He founded and co-chairs Tonkon Torp’s sustainability practice group. He also chairs the firm’s environmental and natural resources practice group. And he was the principal drafter of Tonkon Torp’s sustainability policy, which addresses everything from waste and energy-use reduction to procurement, business travel and commuting, to use of green building materials in office-space improvements.
“Certainly in Portland, if you are not implementing some level of sustainability into your work practices, you are behind the times,” Miller says. “As a result of this shift in regional consciousness, there is now far more mesh than conflict in terms of our clients’ views of our sustainability efforts.”
Schwabe’s Calzacorta followed up on her firm’s early paper recycling initiative to help spur further sustainable practices. A prime example is what her firm calls its “Cups to Go” initiative.
A few years ago, the firm asked its building management to help sort through trash for one night and count up the discarded Starbucks paper cups, she recounts. The firm determined that it was using 140 cups every business day, or about 36,400 cups a year. In response, Schwabe worked out an arrangement with the Pacwest Center’s Starbucks shop to store firm-bought reusable mugs on its shelves for use by Schwabe lawyers and employees. The firm washes the mugs after use and returns them to the coffee shop, in addition to receiving Starbucks’ 10 cents discount on each cup to go.
“We had to change behavior here,” says Calzacorta. “Culturally, we’ve changed quite a bit. Part of it’s Portland, part of it’s us.”
In preparation for a remodel in 2005, the firm hired sustainability consultants to make recommendations. Based on those, Schwabe implemented several changes, including installing carpet made of recycled material, reducing its space from six floors to five, and converting much of its library to electronic.
Referring to sustainable practices, she says: “We’re getting accustomed to it because we see it as the future. Some firms are trying to go paperless. It’s the next challenge for all of us.”
Among Schwabe’s numerous other policies:
- Compost bins in lunchroom kitchen and at all coffee stations; used coffee grounds collected and offered to employees to use as garden compost
- Copy machines and all capable printers default to double-sided copying and printing
- All paper made of recycled post-consumer content, from 50 percent for copy paper to 100 percent for bond
- Use of email, intranet, document-management system, scanning
- Paper pay stubs replaced by online payroll information
- Paper recycling containers in all individual offices, copy rooms, conference rooms and other key areas. In addition to paper, the recycling program includes plastic bags and bottles, metal, batteries, DVDs, CDs and VHS tapes, cellphones, printer cartridges, compact fluorescent bulbs, pens, markers, mechanical pencils, wine corks and aluminum cans
- Marketing materials printed using soy-based ink; Tyvek synthetic envelopes collected and returned to the manufacturer for recycling
- Use of china plates, mugs, glasses and stainless utensils
- Mass-transit subsidies to attorneys and employees; plus, carpooling encouraged, subsidies provided to those who regularly bicycle to work; showers provided for bike commuters and secure bike parking provided in the garage
The firm’s environmental image has played well in recruiting attorneys, Calzacorta notes, with some recruits saying they were attracted to Schwabe because of its sustainability policies.
She doesn’t take sole credit for how the firm has altered the way it does things. “I supported a lot of people who had creative ideas.” A key individual was Dick Templeman, Schwabe’s director of operations for a quarter century until he retired last year.
“He really helped us convert to recycled paper and double-sided printing. He was instrumental in moving us down our path.” Templeman also was active in the Oregon chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators, and through it he helped several other firms modify their operations to mimic steps Schwabe had taken, she says.
In terms of selling sustainability ideas to management, she notes, “We have to make the business case for it,” and with most all of the changes so far, the savings have penciled out.
No longer do the likes of Tonkon Torp feel they have to hide their sustainability credentials. Instead, they prominently display the details of their commitment, accomplishments and recognition, notes the firm’s Miller.
“Plenty of clients expect their lawyers to be sustainable-minded like they are,” he observes. “Companies out there require their firm to have a diversity policy as a threshold to do business with.” At least one organization his firm represented imposed that same expectation for having a sustainability policy. Miller expects more to follow.
“It’s coming,” he says.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer who has been a frequent Bulletin contributor since 1991.
© 2014 Cliff Collins