Life at Work

A Law Partner Pulls His Firm Down the Green Path

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 3, 2007

Being a lawyer isn't really about exciting "Law and Order" courtroom drama. It's about paperwork. Lots of it.

So when a partner at Arnold & Porter decided about a year ago to focus on green issues at his workplace, his first stop was the tons of wasted paper his firm goes through.

Jonathan Martel, who works in environmental law, started what is now the firm-wide Green Office Initiative Project. That means the firm, which worked with the American Bar Association and the Environmental Protection Agency to create a model for the rest of the legal community, has started to use recycled paper for printing, copying and holiday cards. At the District firm, which has about 600 employees, computers are set to print two-sided. And internal documents are sent via e-mail or intranet, saving about 350,000 sheets of paper a year.

"If you think of lawyers using one resource the most, it's probably paper," Martel said. He said estimates show each lawyer uses 25,000 to 100,000 pages a year.

Although many companies have had small recycling programs for years, many more are considering how else to "go green." Part of that might be in response to Al Gore's popular "An Inconvenient Truth" documentary, which left many people questioning the size of their "carbon footprint." Others are reacting to employees and clients who want to know what they are doing about global warming, deforestation and other environmental issues.

In addition to cutting its use of paper, Arnold & Porter will try a few other policies. Although the firm can't really rein in trips to clients, it did decide to pay to offset the carbon emissions associated with that travel, Martel said. The firm sets aside money for every ton of carbon emitted and then uses it for reforestation and other environmental projects. It is also working with building management in its District office to provide air pumps for tires in its parking facilities to improve fuel economy.

Martel gave three reasons for the firm's new environmental consciousness. For one, "it's the right thing to do," he said. "Most of these things are not costly. In fact, some save money." Next, many clients are taking similar steps, and it follows that they will want their vendors to do the same. Finally, when one law firm goes green, he said, others will follow -- particularly since the ABA is on board and will try to promote the practice within the profession.

"The whole thing is built on peer pressure," Martel said. "If organizations recognize that Arnold & Porter is contributing by adopting this policy, it can be pretty quick that you can start to reach a large portion of lawyers in this country."

What Employees Can Do

Many employees out there wish their organizations would get on board.

In a recent online chat, a reader said that she works for a large nonprofit group that is not Metro-accessible and doesn't have recycling bins. "I'm concerned about the environment and I want my company to do better, so I wrote the CEO a professional e-mail telling him my concerns and offering to organize car pools, to investigate the feasibility of the company providing a shuttle service to and from the Metro, and to help facilitate bottle recycling," she wrote.

She hadn't heard back from her boss, so I told her to keep trying. Because, in fact, others have been able to change their own workplaces.

Max Handelsman's government contracting office in Silver Spring recycles only white paper, so he started to take up the recycling issue on his own. He collects cardboard from his lunches and cases of soda, along with his and co-workers' junk mail, and drags it all home to his personal recycling bins. "I wish I could do more," he said.

Other readers are pushing for more support of telecommuting and carpooling, such as giving carpool vehicles prime parking spaces. At Arnold & Porter, workers are suggesting more ways to go green, such as using non-disposable trays and cups in the cafeteria and pitchers instead of bottled water in meeting rooms, Martel said. They've also suggested switching to flat-panel computers -- but that could be as much for the look as the energy savings.

Some have been able make change happen after they realized that higher-ups sometimes can use a push from their employees.

Kate Bunting of Centreville, who works for the government, successfully petitioned her office to recycle cans. It started with her informally mentioning the idea to her boss. The boss suggested sending an e-mail through the layers.

"I didn't hear anything about it for a number of months, then we received an office-wide e-mail that bins for cans (only) would be placed in the break rooms where the soda/vending machines are located," she said in an e-mail. "Our office can't/won't implement paper recycling due to security issues, but I'm sending a follow-up e-mail through the same route to inquire about plastic and glass bottles."

Some of her colleagues have asked for more bins throughout the office, and others have boxes at their desks where they dump newspapers and cans or bottles, then take the collections home to recycle, she said. "If an office sees this, they might be inclined to take efforts to do it officially -- the good PR is worth the effort."

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