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While some of our readers are real go getters when it comes to sustainability — composting at home, only buying energy star products and biking to work — some folks say they don’t have the time or energy required to go green. For those people I ask: if TSL proposed an idea that was  more sustainable, cost the same as its competitors, and you didn’t have to actually do anything…would you be interested? Thought so.

Here’s the deal — whether they are practicing before a judge, meeting potential clients or going for a job interview, most lawyers know how important it is to dress appropriately. Looking good requires more than just fashion sense, it means keeping your suits freshly pressed and super clean – which is why a good dry cleaner can be a lawyers’ best friend. Most people might not know that the current process for dry cleaning is not exactly earth friendly, primarily because of a cleaning solvent called perchloroethylene, commonly known as PERC. About 90% of drycleaners in the United States use PERC as the solvent to lift stains from clothing in the dry cleaning process. Problem is, it’s bad for the environment, and hazardous to boot. Here are a few not so fun facts:

  • Studies conducted by the National Cancer Institute, the National Toxicology Program and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established PERC as a potential carcinogen and the EPA regulates PERC as a hazardous air pollutant.
  • Respiratory exposure to “high” levels of PERC,  can cause depression of the central nervous system, damage to the liver and kidneys, impaired memory, fatigue, nausea, confusion, dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, and eye, nose and throat irritation. Skin exposure to PERC can cause dry, scaly, and cracked dermatitis.
  • Workers in dry cleaning shops are at greatest risk. Because PERC can travel through floor, ceiling and wall materials, people living near or co-located in the same building as dry cleaners have also reported respiratory, skin and neurological problems.
  • A United States EPA report states that repeat exposure to of PERC in air may cause cancer in humans
  • PERC is also environmentally very unfriendly and when improperly handled can create health and environmental risks in the atmosphere, soil, groundwater, drinking water, and waterways threatening many forms of life. Small amounts of PERC have been shown to be toxic to some aquatic animals where it is stored in their fatty tissues. Small amounts of PERC contaminating soil or irrigation water can also damage or kill many kinds of plants.

So, what can you do about it? Don’t worry, we are not going to ask you do clean and press your suits professionally at home. In the past few years, many dry cleaners have made efforts to remove the use of PERC from their operations and are using biodegradable soap, liquid CO2 and liquid silicon. No need to whip out your smart phones, because TSL did all the work to find the green cleaners, many of them right here in the Boston area.

Clevergreen Cleaners: Boston, Medford and Cambridge – Use liquid silicon solvent called Green Earth

Bush Quality Cleaners: Boston (multiple locations), New Bedford, Fairhaven, Dartmouth – Use liquid silicon solvent Green Earth.

Oxford Laundry: Cambridge – Use “eco-friendly detergents and organic solvents”

Zoots: Statewide – Use a “cleaning fluid that’s 100% biodegradable.” More on their work here.

Dependable Cleaners: Statewide – Use “high quality, recyclable dry cleaning solutions that are environmentally friendly.” More on their green work here.

So do us, and everyone else a favor next time you need to freshen up your suit for that important meeting. Dry clean green.

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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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In the professional world, sometimes driving is a necessity. But owning a car can be expensive and inconvenient, especially when the price of parking, insurance and gas is factored in. And let’s be honest, owning a car can translate into more miles driven, and a bigger carbon footprint.

Earlier this year The Sustainable Lawyer read an article in the Boston Globe about Boston Bar Foundation Society of Fellows Committee Co-Chair Jane Willis (Ropes & Gray) and her husband (MassDOT Secretary and CEO Richard Davey) who donated their car to use public transportation and the car sharing service, Zipcar. This got TSL wondering if any other lawyers in the Hub use Zipcar, and whether they believe it fosters sustainability. Fortunately for us, tracking down lawyers who use the service was pretty easy.

Before we get started, he’s a quick rundown on Zipcar:

Zipcar is a car sharing service founded in January 2000 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After signing up, (one time $25 fee) members pick the car of their choice (availability varies by location) online using a computer or smartphone, select the hourly rate or daily option, and off they go. Gas is included (and members are reimbursed for places that don’t accept the card) and there is a 180 mile maximum for 24 hours.

We caught up with three attorneys, Christopher Strang (Desmond Strang & Scott), Colin Van Dyke (Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo) and Aaron Agulnek (Jewish Community Relations Council) and asked them the most simple question we could…why do you use Zipcar?

Colin: We’re a one-car household and Zipcar allows me to get to hearings and client meetings outside of Boston without inconveniencing my wife and kids. The process is simple and the cars are more conveniently located than rentals; for example, I can reserve a car near my house, in the garage beneath our office building, or near a meeting from which I need to leave to get (and drive) to another. Zipcar is typically far less expensive and, again, more convenient than using taxis. Plus, Mintz Levin now provides a Zipcar benefit that reduces the costs of my annual membership and the hourly rates. Still, it’s driving a car, the environmental impact of which is the same whether it’s my car or a Zipcar, but I suspect that if we had a second car I would drive more often, so Zipcar allows me to keep my time behind the wheel to a minimum.

Chris: The main reason I use Zipcar is to not have to deal with parking in the city. I use Zipcar for things like short court appearances outside of Boston, and for client meetings at their offices.  The added bonus is only using the car when absolutely necessary, and using more environmentally friendly transportation to and from work.

Aaron: “I work for a non-profit organization and we have a Zipcar that the staff can utilize for meetings that are outside of public transportation zones.  It clearly makes sense from an economic and convenience perspective, but we also come at it from an environmental perspective.  Our organization is committed to environmental justice and the Zipcar provides a tangible way for us to make a difference.”

Sometimes, the  impact (or the lack thereof) matters more than motivation.

And yes, they offer hybrids.

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