Creative Corner: Green Can Mean Green for Law Firms

by Janet Odgis on November 23, 2014

Janet Odgis

Among European law firms, there’s a newfound focus on environmental sustainability; it’s even a deciding factor in many RFPs, similar to how diversity remains a major consideration for clients of American firms.

While law firms on this side of the Atlantic and in New York City haven’t embraced eco-friendly policies to the same degree, it’s only a matter of time before trends compel them to do so. Adopting an eco-friendly persona can prove beneficial from a marketing standpoint: it projects the message to clients that the firm is a forward thinker, positioned on the forefront of a movement—and in an ultra-competitive environment, that’s a surefire way to differentiate the business.

Here are some “green” steps most firms can take:

Promote recycling. Although email and e-documents have reduced paper waste in offices across the country, law firms continue to produce (and throw away) tons of paper every year; an in-office recycling program can prevent much of this paper from ending up in a landfill (as can a policy of double-sided printing). Firms may also choose to purchase office paper that is at least partially recycled.

Join the ABA/EPA Law Firm Climate Challenge. This program, started by the ABA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, encourages law offices to participate in the EPA’s Green Power Partnership program. Under the terms of the program, law offices can purchase a certain amount of green power or agree to adopt best practices for waste management, among other options; more information about the challenge is available on the ABA Website.

Participate in the ABA/ENERGY STAR Program. This energy-management initiative, a collaboration of the ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) and the ERA’s ENERGY STAR program, asks law offices to try and reduce their energy usage by 10 percent, and introduce a plan for greater energy efficiency. Between this and the Law Firm Climate Challenge, there’s no better way to project to the world that a firm has its contribution to the environment foremost in mind.

Introduce energy-efficient light bulbs, heat, and AC. They’re good for the environment, and a firm’s energy bill. And who doesn’t want to save on burning the midnight oil, or cooling an office floor in summer? On that note…

Encourage electricity savings. Encourage employees to turn off PCs and other electronics, and unplug any phone chargers, when they leave for the night. Otherwise many of these devices will remain in “standby mode” and drain electricity.

Change vendors. Some caterers make a point of serving organic, sustainable food, just as some cleaning companies rely solely on biodegradable cleaning products. They may cost more than “conventional” equivalents, but their presence will send a powerful message.

Reduce use of plastic. Whether plastic and single-use utensils in the kitchen, or bottled water in the fridges, opportunities abound to reduce a firm’s “plastic footprint.” Stocking the kitchen with reusable flatware and water coolers is a big step toward that reduction.

Donate building materials. When moving between offices, a law firm can “pay it forward” by donating materials such as wood, metals, and office supplies (such as old computer monitors) to nonprofit organizations such as Build It Green! NYC or Habitat for Humanity. From a marketing standpoint, this sort of interaction with the community can pay enormous dividends.

Talk about it. Through these actions, law firms can foster a reputation as good corporate—and global—citizens. For a good example of how a law firm is positioning its “green” efforts in a way that boosts its image, take a look at Shearman & Sterling LLP, which has enacted many of the above points. They have found that this also a differentiator in the recruiting process. People are choosing to work in a healthy, environmentally friendly places.

Janet Odgis is the President and Creative Director of Odgis + Co., an award-winning woman-owned branding design firm based in New York City.

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