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Archive for December, 2011

Now that the New Year is upon us, the Sustainable Lawyer is on the lookout for new ways to be “green” for 2012. TSL reached out to a few members of the Environmental Sustainability Task Force for some tips and hints on how to make 2012 greener at home, during your commute and in the office.

Home

Try composting: Composting is a great way to reduce your environmental impact and receive tangible benefits (especially if you garden), and winter is a great time to start. You can compost inside or outside, on a small scale or large scale. You can buy compost bins/buckets, or make them yourself. Composted material (or black gold, as some call it) is ideal feed for your garden, and you can save money on gardening supplies such as Miracle-Gro and the like. Not much of a gardener? No problem, you can always donate your composted materials to a community garden or a neighbor in need.  One of the members of the task force recommended we check out the City of Boston’s page on composting for more information, which is both helpful and informative. You can also check out this step by step guide on how to compost at home to learn more.

Commuting

We all know the basics here — carpool with a friend or neighbor, take public transport whenever possible or giving biking a try (as long as you are a reasonable distance from work) when the weather allows. “Using public transportation is a great way to be greener on your morning commute” said Task Force Co-Chair Michelle O’Brien. Her other suggestion, albeit on a more personal scale, can also have a big impact. “Use one of the many gift cards you likely got this holiday season and invest in a quality reusable travel mug for your coffee or tea.” If you drink one (or more) cups of coffee or tea a day, it’s easy how you can prevent waste from piling up. Excluding weekends, that is AT LEAST 269 paper or Styrofoam cups per year. If you get everyone in your office to do the same, the waste reduction is off the charts (ex: an office of 10 can save 2,690 cups in one calendar year).

The Office

Though the holiday season is mostly passed us, Foley Hoag’s Jonathan Ettinger cited the value of sending electronic holiday cards rather than mailing them traditionally (saving paper from both envelopes and cards). Jonathan also points out a benefit TSL hadn’t thought of: “you receive immediate responses from people by return email, which you don’t get from paper cards.”

For something you can do as soon as tomorrow, there are plenty of suggestions. You could follow Mackie Shea O’Brien’s lead, or adopt some suggestions from the MA Trial Court. Carol Kaplan of Nixon Peabody recommended that we take a look at this list, from Oregon Lawyers for a Sustainable Future, for more ideas. Some of our favorites include:

  • Desk-side recycling boxes are at each workstation.
  • Trash cans are not at each workstation but only at central locations.
  • Office policy states that all copy and print jobs should be double sided unless otherwise specified.
  • Paper towels have 100% post-consumer recycled content.
  • Timers have been installed, or procedures are in place, for turning off lights at the end of the day.
  • Monitors are set to go to sleep after 15 minutes, or staff have been instructed to turn off monitors when leaving the office for 15 minutes or more.
  • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs

Make 2012 the year you start to take greening the planet seriously. Starting small can make a big impact.

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As you know, The Sustainable Lawyer (TSL) is constantly on the lookout for law firms and offices that are championing sustainability initiatives and discovering best practices on e-waste recycling and green leases. We don’t want to toot our own horn too much, but the BBA taken steps to increase sustainability in its own right. Naturally, the BBA has been recycling cans, bottles and paper for as long as TSL can remember, but the BBA also:

• Weather stripped the main exit and fire doors
• Offers digital copies of all CLE materials (in addition, if CLE materials exceed a certain size, they are only available in digital form)
• Installed energy efficient lighting in its Claflin, Beacon and Foundation rooms (with the Adams room up next)
• Replaced meeting room windows facing Beacon Street with insulated glass to save heating costs

But, as we all know, there’s always more to be done. That’s why the BBA invited Rise Engineering, the Cranston, RI based energy company and NSTAR sub-contractor, to perform an energy audit. The goal was to see where the BBA could save money on electric and gas bills.

After completing the audit, Rise provided the BBA with an informational booklet that included proposed savings, job costs and the simple payback (how long it will take to earn back the cost of the improvements in energy savings). The suggested improvements primarily involved replacing everyday light fixtures with more energy efficient ones, installing a boiler reset control, and insulating pipes. The big surprise was the effect of changing the lights inside exit signs, which will save more than 8,000 kilowatt hours per year (think about it – exit signs are on 24/7 – so making them more energy efficient can really add up in the long run). The BBA has agreed to accept all of the improvements, which will result in the following savings:

Gas: 412 Therms saved with savings of $618 per year. The payback period is less than 6 months.

Electric/lighting: 4,000 watts saved, 15,896 kilowatt hours saved and $2,336.68 saved per year. The cost of the improvements will be paid back in less than 12 months.

The real kicker is the incentives offered to making energy efficient improvements. As part of NSTAR’s Small Business Solutions Program, the BBA will receive 70% off all labor, materials and recycling costs, which accounts for the short payback periods. The numbers speak for themselves. The energy audit is free, the majority of expenses are incentivized, and in the BBA’s case, the cost of the upgrades will be paid for through savings in energy costs in less than a year. It’s not just about going green anymore. It’s about saving money.

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Here at The Sustainable Lawyer (TSL) we are always looking for ways to inform our readers about new ways to reduce their environmental impact. In our interviews and conversations with the top green minds of the day, we noticed a lot of emphasis on e-waste recycling. While we were able to understand the basics — recycling electronic products like computers and cell phones — TSL wanted to delve a little deeper into the process and purpose of recycling e-waste. Thanks to some connections, TSL was able to call Senior Environmental Engineer Richard A. Marx and Senior Environmental Scientist Elaine B. Enfonde, both of Nixon Peabody’s Rochester, NY office, to find out more.

One of the first things TSL learned is that e-waste isn’t just recycled, it’s reused. Computers, laptops, telephones, cell phones, TV’s, inkjet printers and other gadgets can often be refurbished to working condition. In many cases, these refurbished items will be given to not for profit organizations or local schools. Just a few examples include providing working cell phones to a battered women’s shelter for emergency use or donating computers to underfunded schools or after school centers. Firms and offices should keep their ears to the ground to hear more about local programs and initiatives that will take in electronics you no longer need and put them to good use.

When products are unfit to be reused, they are disassembled into parts to be recycled. Your everyday appliances are made from materials including plastic and precious metals such as gold and silver, tantalum, mercury, lead and more. Reusing these products rather than making more plastic or mining more metals can significantly impact the environment. Don’t believe me? Fine, let’s see what the EPA has to say:

“By recycling 100 million cell phones, approximately 7,500 pounds of gold could be recovered – allowing that amount of gold to go into new products.Recovering the gold from cell phones, rather than mining it from the earth, would prevent 12,000,000,000 pounds of loose soil, sand, and rock from having to be moved, mined, and processed.”

Computer and cell phone parts are harmful to the environment if not properly recycled. In addition to the aforementioned lead and mercury, e-products also include cadmium, arsenic, beryllium and brominated flame retardants. It gets worse. When heated (the way much of the e-waste is treated, especially overseas) these substances create additional toxins such as halogenated dioxins and furans which e-Stewards.com, a website dedicated to figuring out how to prevent the toxic materials in electronics from continuing to cause long term harm to human health and the environment, calls “some of the most toxic substances known to humankind… that can cause cancer, reproductive disorders, endocrine disruption, and many other health problems.” Essentially, this isn’t something that should be allowed to sit around in landfills or sent to other countries (like 70—80% of e-waste currently is). If not properly managed, materials in these products can be released into our environment, potentially contaminating our air, water and soil.  If you do not use a reputable recycler, the potential exists for these materials to be improperly decommissioned and potentially cause serious health risks to both workers and their communities.

So why isn’t everyone doing this? We’re not sure, but only 11-14% of e-waste is sent to recyclers. It is the responsibility of firms and offices to find companies that are operating to the highest standards of e-waste recycling. Fortunately, it’s not impossible.  EPA has established a voluntary program known as Responsible Recycling (R2).  Additionally, E-Stewards.com, who bill themselves as “the globally responsible way to recycle your electronics,” is one resource for identifying reputable e-waste recyclers. They have a location based map which provides certified recyclers that “conform to the e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Waste” and those that have “contracted with e-Stewards Certifying Bodies and are in the process of becoming certified to the e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Waste.”

As Elaine says, “it’s up to the individual to make the right decision when selecting a recycler to handle their e-waste properly.”

The take home message, Rick says, is that “it is up to each of us to conduct appropriate due diligence regarding where and how our e-waste is discarded and to consider not only the potential environmental and health implications, but also the social impacts.  Bottom line, it’s worth it.”

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If you’ve been reading The Sustainable Lawyer, you know that we have highlighted the MA Trial Court, WilmerHale, Nixon Peabody, Nutter McClennen & Fish and others. These large firms and organizations have undertaken some impressive green initiatives, and deserve to be highlighted. However, if any of our solo and small firm lawyers were wondering when we were going to give them something on a smaller scale, fear not! The wait is over.

The Sustainable Lawyer searched for a small office that was taking sustainable steps to reduce their environmental impact. Fortunately, we didn’t have to look very hard before finding boutique environmental law firm Mackie Shea O’Brien PC, a 7 person office located in the Back Bay. The Sustainable Lawyer touched base with Executive Director Denise Green (we promise, that’s her real name) to get a sense of what Mackie Shea O’Brien (MSO) was doing on the sustainability front. Denise broke down their initiatives in three major ways: kitchen, office and building.

Kitchen: The focus in the kitchen is using reusable products. That means MSO is stocked with real dishes, glasses, silverware and utensils. They have nearly eliminated paper towels from the office entirely, and in the kitchen primarily use cloth towels. Looking for plastic bags or tin foil? You’re not going to find it. MSO has a selection of Tupperware as for anything leftover from the office. Everything is piled into the on-site dishwasher, which, of course, is only run when completely filled. At first, Green says, “everyone brought in extra plates, silverware and the like from home. Later, we got matching sets of glasses and bowls. Next it was Tupperware, and so on.”

Office: Though you won’t find paper products in the kitchen, you need paper to run an office. So, MSO makes sure their copy paper, paper towels and even letterhead is made of at least 50% recyclable material. Did we mention that their letterhead is made at a paper mill that runs on wind power? As for computers, all computers and monitors are shut down at the end of the work day, which as the Sustainable Lawyer has mentioned, can save a considerable amount of energy. As you might guess, MSO participates in single stream recycling, but they didn’t always have that luxury. At their old office, the landlord (gasp!) didn’t recycle at all. Don’t think that stopped them! They hired a company to pick up and recycle all of their paper products. But what about their cans, bottles and other plastic, you ask? Get this – MSO employees volunteered to take the recyclables home or to local recycling plants on a weekly basis. Talk about commitment.

Building: When MSO moved offices from Newbury Street to Boylston Street, one of the things they kept in mind was a landlord committed to sustainable practices. Though in an older building, management had kept HVAC systems up to date and was planning another renovation, and was planning on upgrading recycling vendors shortly. As for the construction of their office space, MSO simply let their vendors and contractors know that they were interested in eco-friendly products and outlined their budget. The vendors made it happen….all within their budget.

“We don’t have an environmental budget or anything like that,” said Green. “We use good, common business sense and a commitment to sustainability from the top down. As environmental lawyers, being sustainable is the nature of our business, but these are steps that anyone can take.

As a small firm, you compete with big firms every day. You have to think that your firm is as good and as valuable in a legal sense, but the same applies when it comes to sustainability. The little things matter.”

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