|Oregon State Bar Bulletin FEBRUARY/MARCH 2007|
By Janine Robben
When Oregon law professor Robin Morris Collin began teaching the first law school course on sustainability in the country in 1993, the concept was new, even to her.
Collin, who says she got the idea after reading about the U.N.’s 1992 Earth Summit, says she remembers thinking, "This is interesting, but what does it mean? The word ‘sustainability’ seemed so amorphous."
The word is still somewhat undefined: a January Oregonian article on the subject settled for noting that it "means different things to different people."
Nonetheless, in the 14 years since Collin taught her first class, an ever-increasing number of Oregon lawyers have begun using their roles as educators, consumers, rainmakers and policy makers to promote sustainability’s concepts of reduced waste and increased use of "green" products and services.
"In the movement to create a sustainable future, lawyers will increasingly play a leadership role," says Dick Roy, who in 1993 left his position as a managing partner at a Portland mega-firm to devote 100 percent of his time to saving the environment.
"As caretakers of justice, we are naturally drawn to the critical issues facing society, like the civil rights movements of the ’60s," says Roy. "Today, living in an era of advanced ecological degradation, society has embarked on what certainly will be the greatest human adventure of all time. Future generations are dependent on our success."
When Collin teaches global sustainability law and policy, she isn’t afraid to step on governmental and business toes for the protection of those future generations.
"The environment, the economy, equity: when we get to making decisions, we should consider consequences in all three of these domains at the same time, not elevate one," says Collin, who moved from the University of Oregon School of Law to Willamette University College of Law in 2003. "The U.S. has put the economy first."
Collin also believes that those who pollute should have to pay for it.
"If you create waste or pollution, you should pay the full and true cost," she says. "Look at companies like Wal-Mart" (now the world’s biggest purchaser of organic cotton). "Once they figure out that waste and pollution actually cost money, they want it out. IKEA got that message a long time ago."
Collin says that the first time she taught her course, her students were "profoundly depressed."
"I took that to heart," she says. "It is distressing to hear that everything is going wrong, to see how much we’re losing. (But) I didn’t want them to leave depressed. For me, sustainability is a way to make sense of chaos and distress. I tell my students, ‘We need to change the story we tell. The oceans are not endlessly resilient. They are very fragile.’ I wanted to say, ‘Here are the tools. Here is the way.’"
"What I’ve found really inspiring is we have common ground," says Collin of her students at the U of O and now at Willamette. "We just haven’t had leadership to develop that common ground. (But) I’ve taught 12 students a year for 13 years. There’s now a good body who I have helped to develop into people/lawyers/leaders/civil servants who are ready to think about these issues in a concrete way."
At the same time that Collin was beginning to teach law school students about sustainability, another Oregon lawyer, Dick Roy, was finally putting into place his plan — six years in the making — to devote 100 percent of his time to environmental education.
"I had a lot of energy for things other than the practice of law," says Roy, who had been with Stoel Rives for 23 years when he left the power and prestige — not to mention the money — behind to co-found the Northwest Earth Institute with his wife Jeanne, who was already a fulltime volunteer environmental activist.
Roy says the couple’s commitment to the environment at home has included reducing their garbage to one can a year. "Mostly by eliminating packaging," he says. "Packaging, for the most part, is useless. And we’re proponents of pre-cycling. We don’t really get any catalogs."
On the professional level, the Roys and the Northwest Earth Institute have developed a number of innovative programs, including a series of six discussion courses on such topics as "Choices for Sustainable Living." So far, over 75,000 people — meeting in small groups — have participated in the courses nationwide.
Last year, the Roys handed over the reins to the institute and created another non-profit, the Center for Earth Leadership.
Dick Roy says the shift gave him the opportunity to work towards a personal goal: "to raise awareness about sustainability and to explore ways that lawyers can contribute to a sustainable future."
To achieve this goal, in early 2006 the Roys invited a total of 43 lawyers to three informative luncheon meetings.
"My inviting process was not at all scientific," says Dick Roy. "Only a few (of the invitees) were environmental lawyers: it was a very mainstream group."
Roy says that "to my surprise, essentially everyone invited was very interested.
"Only one confirmed person did not show," he says, "and she had an emergency. By any standard, with lawyers, the attendance rate was extraordinary."
Not all of the attendees agreed with Roy’s thesis that there is a natural connection between lawyers and sustainability.
"One big-firm lawyer said, ‘There’s nothing about this that would appeal to my clients or help me get clients,’" recalls Jas Adams, a natural resources lawyer with the Oregon Department of Justice, who attended one of the lunches.
But Adams himself was moved by Roy’s view of environmental activism by the legal profession.
"There’s a civil-justice or civil-rights component, an obligation to future generations," says Adams, who became a member of the steering committee of Oregon Lawyers for a Sustainable Future, an offshoot of the Center for Earth Leadership. "Many lawyers are committed to providing justice. It’s a very cutting-edge way of thinking."
Adams says Oregon Lawyers for a Sustainable Future is intended "to attract not just committed environmental lawyers, but lawyers who have been underrepresented in doing something about sustainability efforts.
"There is a range of perspectives among the lawyers involved," he says. "Some want to do a concrete thing that makes a difference now; others would like the focus to be more education and research."
Roy says one of the issues he tries to help lawyers and others confront is the perceived lack of time for such environmental activism.
"I don’t think we’ve talked to a lawyer yet who doesn’t realize there’s an elephant in the room," he says of the earth’s environmental degradation. "But the perception is life is so full they can’t get involved in public service."
Roy says an alternative way of looking at the time issue is to analyze how discretionary time is spent.
"We have a culture whose dominant values have been designed by commercial interests," he points out. "Take the Super Bowl: it’s totally a creation of commercial interests. Twenty-two people pushing each other around: you have to go really far to make that an important interest."
Roy says that when people explore their values in this context, "For the most part, they come away with a decision to do things differently."
One Oregon lawyer who did just that is Regina Hauser, who — like Roy — converted her former big-firm career to bio-energy.
In 2002, Hauser, who had spent more than 16 years as an intellectual property lawyer at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in Portland, left to run the Oregon Natural Step Network, a non-profit that helps businesses operate more sustainably.
The organization, which was created in 1997 and operated by the Roys’ Northwest Earth Institute for its first five years, uses a framework for addressing environmental problems that was brought to the United States from Sweden in 1996 by Smith & Hawken co-founder Paul Hawken. Member companies that have received advice and training include the Collins Companies, Nike and Norm Thompson, as well as several law firms.
Hauser says that becoming the Oregon network’s first official executive director was the result of her desire to "do something different.
"I had a passion for the environment, but I didn’t want to be an environmental lawyer," she says. "I learned about sustainability and thought it was more about looking for solutions to problems than ‘good guys’ vs. ‘bad guys.’ I thought this was a more-positive way to use my skills."
Hauser acknowledges that, in the beginning, those skills did not include specific knowledge on how to train people on sustainability.
"I had some business skills, but most of it was training on the fly: baptism by fire," she says. "Every good lawyer has had that experience."
Five years into the learning curve, Hauser says that "I am happier than I’ve ever been before. I liked my job before, but I love this job."
Law Firms as Consumers
Think of lawyers and their firms in terms of sustainability, and it’s tempting to think of them as the ideology’s anti-Christ.
There’s some truth to that image.
Roy says that among professionals’ reactions to sustainability issues, "the spectrum ranges from architects — who deal with the physical world and are 100 percent open to sustainability — to CPAs, who deal with numbers and abstractions. Lawyers are in between, just in terms of the work that they do."
But legal practice has been undergoing what the Oregon Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators recently called "a sea change…creat(ing) more opportunities for administrators and managers to implement sustainable practices…"
Office Max Account Executive Becky Schindele, who has dealt with law firms as clients for over 25 years, says she has observed this change firsthand.
Schindele says that law firms have begun to use more recycled products, including furniture, despite the fact that some recycled products can cost more than their non-recycled counterparts.
For example, Schindele says that printer paper with no recycled content costs an average of $28 for a carton of 10 reams, versus $38 for a carton of 100-percent recycled paper.
Kris Thomsen, administrator of Lindsay, Hart, Neil & Weigler in Portland, says her firm uses all 100-percent recycled paper. "They’re that dedicated," says Thomsen, who also is resources director of the Association of Legal Administrators’ Oregon Chapter.
One of the first Oregon law firms to embrace sustainable practices on a large-scale basis is Roy’s former firm, Stoel Rives.
Administrative Services Manager Phil Moran describes the firm as "a little bit ahead of the curve in Portland.
"In 1988, we began a pretty rigorous recycling program," says Moran, who is in charge of purchasing for all of Stoel Rives’ offices. "Neither the city nor our building did that at that time. It’s probably the biggest thing a law firm or business can do, and we’ve been doing it fanatically. When the building finally embraced it, they realized how much money they saved from free recycling versus dumpsters."
Moran says the firm also used paper with 50 percent recycled content — "We use a million sheets a month in the Portland office alone, so at 50 percent, I felt like we were trendsetters," he says — until a supplier change forced a switch to paper with 30 percent recycled content.
In addition, Moran says that "We went out and asked (our cartridge vendor) to recycle cartridges before it was trendy to do so. Because we have such a huge volume, they have done so since ’92. I can’t imagine how many we’ve kept out of landfills. There’s also a huge incentive to use them because — at current costs — a new cartridge costs $190, versus $110 for a recycled printer cartridge."
Moran says that as a result of these and other practices, Stoel Rives’ Portland office has been certified by Portland’s Office of Sustainable Development’s BlueWorks Program. The program helps businesses design recycling systems to recycle at least 50 percent of their former garbage and certifies those, like Stoel Rives, that achieve this goal.
It’s a good thing to get certified," says Moran of the city’s recognition of businesses that recycle at least 50 percent of their former garbage. "I would urge any business to do it. The city said you’d be surprised how many businesses don’t do this."
Another major Portland firm with an interest in sustainable consumerism is Hauser’s former firm, Schwabe.
"About 10 or 12 years ago, the firm started modest things, like recycling paper," says Managing Partner Mark Long. "About two years ago, a group of the firm’s members showed particular interest and, largely as a result of their efforts, things really took off."
Long says that Schwabe’s sustainable practices include:
- Encouraging staff to print lengthy documents on both sides of the paper.
- Giving preference to vendors that practice sustainable practices.
- Buying computers that are rated highly by EPEAT (the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, which helps purchasers evaluate, compare and select participating manufacturers’ desktop computers, notebooks and monitors, based on their environmental attributes) and
- Working with Free Geek (a Southeast Portland non-profit that recycles computer technology) and the Electronic Computer Exchange to dispose of outdated computers so that they, or their components, can be re-used.
Long says that while many of the things his firm does save money, those savings are offset by its use of environmentally-friendly deconstruction and construction techniques.
"That means some aspects of remodeling are going to cost more than if we used the lowest bidder," he says. "I wouldn’t say sustainable practices are, in all cases, a net savings."
Nonetheless, Long says that Schwabe sees such practices "both as the right thing to do and great for morale: it gives our people a special sense of social responsibility."
Sustainability the New Rainmaker?
Can doing more with less — or at least doing business differently — be a rainmaker for businesses and their law firms? Some Oregon lawyers are betting that it can.
"Oregon’s businesses are really starting to embrace the concept of sustainability. (And) lawyers are really instrumental in business practices," says Margaret Kirkpatrick, who was a partner at Stoel Rives before becoming vice president and general counsel at Northwest Natural Gas in 2005.
As such, Kirkpatrick is in charge of environmental compliance by the company, which is responsible for a share of the Portland harbor superfund site.
She also supervises the company’s new Department of Environmental Policy and Sustainability, working with the head of that department, Bill Edmonds, to "think through how we at Northwest Natural can become a more-sustainable company by shrinking our environmental footprint and looking at more-renewable sources of energy."
Kirkpatrick says that one of the principal reasons she went to law school was her interest in environmental issues and policy.
While in private practice, Kirkpatrick says, she became more and more involved in energy facility siting, including working on Oregon’s first large-scale wind-energy project, the Stateline Project.
"I got very excited about the whole idea of renewable energy," says Kirkpatrick, who previously served on the board of the Oregon Environmental Council. "Lawyers can be advocates for projects that are sustainable."
Another lawyer who shares that view is Kirkpatrick’s former colleague at Stoel Rives, Peter Mostow, who chairs the firm’s renewable energy team.
"Our practice group does soup to nuts for anyone who wants to develop a renewable energy project," says Mostow.
Mostow gravitated towards renewable energy after starting out with the firm in 1994 doing environmental permitting and licensing.
"There’s a big opportunity for lawyers who are interested in this area to make a lasting, positive difference," he says.
Mostow’s projects have included helping Klamath Basin farmers understand how they can use sustainable practices and renewable-energy technologies to their advantage.
"They know they’re not going to compete, as just hay farmers, in today’s global marketplace," he points out. "They have to add more value and get in front of trends, and they are quickly figuring out how."
Another environmental lawyer, Max Miller of Tonkon Torp in Portland, says he also tries to advise clients, on a one-on-one basis, on the business benefits of sustainability.
"Water use reduction, in the Portland area, is huge on somebody’s bottom line," says Miller, who co-founded his firm’s "green committee."
As Kirkpatrick, Mostow and Miller have discovered, sustainability is becoming a business buzz word: in January, it was even the theme of the state’s fifth annual economic leadership summit.
At the summit, Allen Alley — the new deputy chief of staff for one particularly prominent Oregon lawyer, Gov. Ted Kulongoski — told over 1,000 busIness, academic and legislative leaders that "Economic development in harmony with our planet is not only the right civic thing to do, it’s the right business decision."
Lawyers as Policy Makers
Former Portland City Attorney Jeff Rogers says he sees lawyers and sustainability as a good news-bad news story.
"The bad news is, if humans keep multiplying and increasing consumption, we’re all in for collapse, basically," says Rogers, who serves on the steering committee of Oregon Lawyers for a Sustainable Future. "The good news is, there’s more and more awareness of that, and Oregon lawyers have the opportunity to be in the forefront (of change)."
In Rogers’ view, "There are lots of law-reform things that are ripe for action. As with most cultural movements in this country, eventually they end up embodied in law. This will, too."
One of the law revisions being considered by Oregon Lawyers for a Sustainable Future concerns Oregon’s corporation laws.
According to Rogers, the proposed change would clarify that boards of directors can "make decisions that would promote sustainability even if it hurts their corporations’ bottom line. It would be an effort to clarify what latitude corporate directors have."
The proposed legislation was submitted to legislative counsel in January.
Such proposed legislation is exactly what Roy might have expected.
"There are a number of things I like about lawyers," he says, "and one is they’re accustomed to looking at facts and bringing their energy to bear on a goal. A goal that I have is to find ways that the talent within the bar can be engaged, in any way, towards a sustainable future."
Additional information on Oregon Lawyers for a Sustainable Future and its Best Office Practices Checklist and Model Law Firm Sustainability Policy are available from email@example.com, (503) 227-2807.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janine Robben is a frequent contributor to the Bulletin. She has been a member of the Oregon State Bar since 1980.
© 2007 Janine Robben