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Archive for February, 2012

Many of TSL’s posts thus far have been about how to make a difference on a small scale, replacing lights in exit signs, tips for making your Valentine’s Day greener, ideas for a more sustainable 2012 and so on.  This week’s different. TSL spoke with Chris Davis, Director of Investor Programs at the Boston based nonprofit Ceres to learn more about its work.

First, a brief history. Ceres is a nonprofit organization founded 1989 by Joan Bavaria (right after the Exxon Valdez oil spill) with a goal of creating a network of investors, environmental organizations and other public interest groups to address sustainability challenges such as global climate change. In 2012, Ceres boasts a strong corporate commitment (more on that later) and an investment network of 100 institutional investors and asset managers that control more than 10 trillion dollars. Ceres holds sustainability summits at the United Nations, has received countless awards and one of its first initiatives, the Global Reporting Initiative, is now its own non-profit and is lauded as the “standard for sustainability reporting.”

Now, that’s all well and good, but to be frank, TSL is more interested in actions and results than accolades and rewards. While taglines such as “advocating for a sustainable economy” and “environmental thought leader” sound great, what TSL wants to focus on is what Ceres actually does. We couldn’t touch on all of Ceres work in one blog post, but here are three major reasons why Ceres is so successful:

1) Ceres created the “Ceres Principles,” a ten-point code of corporate environmental conduct that they ask companies to publicly endorse as an environmental mission statement or ethic. Sunoco became the first Fortune 500 Company to sign on in 1993, and many more have followed, include Ford, Bank of America and Timberland. Today, Ceres works with more than 80 large companies on integrating sustainability into their business strategies. See all members of Ceres Company Network here.

2) Ceres uses the considerable clout of its investor network to influence both policy and corporate practices, especially when it comes to risk reporting. Want some examples? No problem:

  • Ceres was a key force in getting the SEC to issue guidance on climate risk disclosure, which requires companies to report material risks to business from climate change as part of their annual risk reporting.
  • Ceres also worked with insurance regulators in New York, California and Illinois to to require insurance companies comprising 90% of the property and casualty market to report on the risks posed by climate change to their businesses” (in 2011 there were 14 extreme weather events in the US potentially linked to climate change that each caused over $1 billion in losses).

3) In 2010, Ceres created the “21st Century Corporation: Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability” which provides a comprehensive platform to create a sustainable business strategy. The roadmap includes more than 200 best practice examples in 20 sectors and features more than 250 resources and tools from experts and thought leaders.

Oh, and did we mention that Ceres is a 60 person organization? Talk about punching above your weight.

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At The Sustainable Lawyer (TSL), we are thinking 24/7 about ways to make our office  more sustainable (and save some money) by reducing energy consumption. Some of these strategies seem obvious, like turning the lights off when we leave a room or shutting down computers at night. However, some of the biggest energy wasters have caught us by surprise, including those that have been hanging right over our heads. This week, we wanted to highlight an often overlooked energy hog almost every office has: exit signs.

TSL first became aware of the impact of indorr exit signs (which are required to be on at all times) during the BBA’s energy audit, performed by Rise Engineering. These signs, which are necessary to comply with building and fire codes, often fade into the background of offices, but our friends at Rise reminded us that they keep working long after we have gone home for the day. The BBA has 24 exit signs, which each use up to 40 watts of power a day. By converting to LED exit signs, which use only 1 watt of power a day, we learned that we can save more than 750 watts of energy every week.

The BBA will soon be installing brand new exit signs throughout the building and, with that switch, instantly start consuming less energy 24 hours a day. In the meantime, TSL will continue to be on the lookout for stealth energy hogs!

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Here at the Sustainable Lawyer, we want to make being green as easy and accessible as possible. That’s why we highlight the benefits of car services like Zipcar or spell out a few ways to make your Valentine’s Day a more sustainable one. This week, we wanted to help out our readers by starting a green glossary of sorts. Why? Well, there are plenty of awards, certifications and terms that are associated with sustainability, but what do they all mean? As a consumer (and all lawyers are consumers), which words or labels can you trust? TSL is here to help.

For our inaugural “green glossary” let’s start with a term that gets thrown around a lot these days – organic. In the last few years, it seems like everyone is getting on the organic bandwagon, but what does being organic really mean? Who determines what’s organic and what’s not? Why are some products called “organic” while others are “made with organic ingredients?” Let’s break it down.

Most people know that the basic definition of organic refers to not using synthetic materials (like pesticides and chemical fertilizers), genetically modified or chemical food additives in crop and livestock production. Not surprisingly, there is a lot more to it than that. Agricultural products that are sold, labeled, or represented as organic must be produced and processed in accordance with the USDA’s National Organic Program standards (except for operations whose gross income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less). As a consumer, checking for a USDA seal and investigating the display panel and informational panels on products will help you determine what is organic and what is not. Much of the distinction between organic ingredients is about the wording used to describe the product – as well as where it’s located on the packaging. USDA breaks down food that qualifies as organic into three main categories: “100% organic,” “organic” and “made with organic ingredients.”

  • 100% Organic: Products described as 100% organic must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients and processing aids. These foods will have “100% Organic” listed on the main display panel.
  • Organic: Organic products must consist of at least 95% organically produced ingredients. Any remaining product ingredients must consist of substances approved on the National List. What substances can be used? The USDA provides the example of using a vaccine to prevent pinkeye as an allowable synthetic substance. It makes sense – the use of the additive is to keep the animal healthy animal, but still disqualifies the meat as being labeled as 100% organic because it does use a synthetic material in production. For 100% Organic and Organic products, the USDA seal and seal or mark of involved certifying agents may appear on product packages and in advertisements.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: Products that are “made with organic ingredients” must be made up of at least 70% organic ingredients. These products can list up to three organic ingredients within the food product on the label. The USDA uses soup as an example here, where a label might list “soup made with organic vegetables” or “soup made with organic peas, carrots and corn.”

Processed products that contain less than 70% or organic ingredients are out of luck. They are prohibited from using the term organic anywhere on the “principal display panel.”  They can, however, list organic ingredients on the information panel, so consumers can see if one type of lettuce in a mixed green salad was produced organically – and so on.

Thinking about labeling something organic that’s not? Don’t. The USDA has extremely strict standards and fines for violators. The USDA levies penalties of up to $11,000 on any person who “knowingly sells or labels a product as organic that is not produced and handled in accordance with the National Organic Program’s regulations.”

But consumers beware, though the term organic is tightly controlled, no such regulation exists for the terms “free range,” “sustainably harvested” or “no drugs or growth hormones used” so don’t take it at face value.

Do you have a term, label or certification you would like TSL to tackle next? Sound off below.

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As you know, The Sustainable Lawyer focuses on highlighting law firms and offices that are committed to sustainability, providing green office tips, and the like. This week, however, we are going to step away from that focus for one very important reason — Valentine’s Day. While one might not immediately associate lawyers and Valentine’s Day, TSL knows that this week is filled with last minute bouquet hunting, chocolate buying and restaurant reserving for your significant other. Plus, we all know that being green is important whether it’s inside the office or out.

Earlier this week, Julie Taylor of Noble & Wickersham LLP and member of our Environmental Sustainability Task Force, sent TSL an e-mail about the Sierra Club highlighting some ways to have a more sustainable Valentine’s Day. While not all of their suggestions are ones we would recommend here (I’m looking at you, eco-underwear) there are some good and plausible suggestions for a greener Valentine’s Day. Here are our favorites:

Choose a “green” restaurant

The most sustainable option when planning a Valentine’s Day dinner is to buy ingredients from your local farmers market and make them yourself. But hey, it’s Valentine’s Day, and you and your significant other deserves a treat (that doesn’t involve washing dishes). So if you’re looking for a restaurant, try using DineGreen.com, the Green Restaurant Association’s website that certifies restaurants as “green” based on 7 categories; Water Efficiency, Waste Reduction and Recycling, Sustainable Furnishings and Building Materials, Sustainable Food, Energy, Disposables and Chemical and Pollution Reduction. The listing of Massachusetts green certified restaurants is here.

If you prefer vegetarian or vegan options, try VegDining.com, a database that compiles vegetarian/vegetarian friendly restaurants and food stores (and even denotes them based on vegan and vegetarian “friendliness”).

Buy Flowers Sustainably

In case you didn’t know, the cut-flower industry is damaging to the environment. While TSL wishes we could suggest that you make your own bouquet from your garden teeming with flowers of all varieties, it’s February in Massachusetts — so that’s not happening. One way to go is to buy from OrganicBouquet.com, the “largest online provider or eco-friendly and organic floral gifts.” Monitored by numerous certification agencies and associations, Organic Bouquets partners with farms in California, Ecuador and Columbia to provide customers with high quality flowers and floral arrangements in line with their strict eco-standards. Worried about shipping? Organic Bouquets has partnered with Carbonfund.org to initiate a carbon offset program that mitigates greenhouse gases generated from shipping your flowers and gifts.

Organic Chocolate is the Way to Go

To many of us, Valentine’s Day means one thing — chocolate. No one is crazy enough to suggest that you don’t buy chocolate for your Valentine, but TSL thinks the Sierra Club is onto something when it suggests buying chocolate that is organic, local and shade grown. Quick fact — of all plants, cocoa demands the second highest use of pesticides (cotton is first).

The Sierra Club suggests avoiding names like M&M/Mars, Hershey, and Russell Stover and keeping an eye out for Green & Black’s, Newman’s Own Organics, and Endangered Species. They offer more suggestions for artisanal, organic and fair trade options here, while Rainforest Relief offers its own list.

We know everybody thinks about the color red on Valentine’s Day, but this year, start thinking green.

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Did you know that Boston has been praised as a “national leader in sustainability?” Boston has been ranked 5th in the U.S. for environmental sustainability, the 2nd best city for green jobs, the top city for Cleantech companies, the #1 safest city for pedestrians and the first major city to require adherence to LEED standards. With that in mind, The Sustainable Lawyer (TSL) checked in with Mayor’s Office of Environmental and Energy Services, particularly since lawyer Jim Hunt, Chief of Environmental and Energy Services, is a member of the Boston Bar Association’s Task Force on Sustainability. The City is currently focused on providing small businesses with clean and affordable energy, and filled us in on two programs that are getting it done — Boston Buying Power and Renew Boston.

Boston Buying Power allows small to medium sized business access to more competitive energy pricing, the type of wholesale pricing that large companies receive from energy suppliers. Here’s the deal: Big companies buy more energy, so they receive more competitive pricing, long term stability rates, and the most advanced services. Because small businesses buy less energy, they buy in at market prices decided by the supplier (National Grid and N-Star) and don’t get the benefits bigger companies do. That’s where Boston Buying Power comes in. BBP is an energy buying group led by “experienced wholesale market negotiators” that will buy on behalf of the participating smaller companies. BBP has the purchasing power of hundreds of companies, which allows member businesses to receive the energy at wholesale, reduced rates.

Renew Boston began in 2009, and here’s how it worked: Using a combination of Federal Funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Conservation Block Grant and existing energy efficiency programs administered by NSTAR and National Grid, the city was able to pay for 100% of air sealing, insulation and lighting on eligible homes. RISE Engineering (remember them?) provides the free audits of which 70% is paid for by NSTAR/National Grid, while the grants covered the rest. The City partnered with neighborhood organizations and stopped into corner stores and coffee shops with RISE representatives to offer the audit and corresponding savings. The program was a huge success, with more than $11.9 million dollars of energy efficiency work done saving, Boston residents and businesses $3.4 million.

As a result of this success, the City will be hitting the ground running to make a larger range of small businesses, including law firms, aware of the potential savings that RISE, NSTAR and National Grid offer to those who quality. While these companies are not eligible to for federal funds, they will still receive 70% of the cost of installation and are provided with payoff periods — the amount of time it will take for them to start saving money after the price of repairs. The City is hoping that raising awareness about the potential savings will result in more business taking the necessary steps to not only be more sustainable, but to help save money.

It’s nice to see the City not only talk the talk, but walk the walk – for companies big and small.

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