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Big guns go green

|Written By Ian Harvey
Big guns go green

Could going green boost billables? Definitely, says Andrew A. Taylor, an energy and environmental practitioner and co-chairman of Ogilvy Renault LLP’s clean-tech team, which specializes in providing legal services for innovative environmental entrepreneurs. 

“We started to notice that on a lot of request for proposals they were asking about sustainable policies,” he says, and, given Ogilvy Renault’s footprint in the sector, there was no way they could “talk the talk unless we walked the walk.”


Taylor teamed up with another of the firm’s veteran environmental lawyers, Jean Piette, a senior partner in the Montreal office and chairman of the environmental law team, and made a presentation to the board that was quickly supported. Since then, the pair has been developing ideas and solutions and looking at other best practices being deployed by law firms across North America. However, closer to home, the response and contribution of ideas from peers and employees was overwhelming, they say, and an indication that it’s an idea whose time has come.


“A lot of what we’re doing now is assessing what kind of things can be done and what the impact is of things like business travel,” said Piette, who in 1972 became the first lawyer in Quebec to develop a practice devoted entirely to environmental law. “It’s important that we have a sustainable policy, because there are a number of clients telling us that they like to do business with other sustainable businesses. There are clients who require all their suppliers to have sustainable policies in place. This is the direction things are going.”


Sometimes it’s the simple stuff, says Taylor, who admits to going around turning off lights in empty boardrooms. Sometimes it takes a longer, more complex plan. With the Montreal office moving into new facilities next year, a window of opportunity opened for the firm to look not just at its space requirements but also at the environmental impact of its new offices. “There are going to be showers there, so people can clean up after cycling to work,” says Piette. “And we’re looking at where the hardwood floors come from. We’d like them to be local or at least from a fast-growing sustainable plant like bamboo.”


Being green in deed, and not just word, is a natural extension of corporate responsibility, and it cuts across all sectors. Like charitable donations in time and money, which help to raise the profile of designated causes, taking action to cut down waste and make sustainable choices has become another reality of business.


Technology consultants Accenture, for example, surveyed more than 7,500 consumers in 17 countries last year and found over 90 per cent of Canadian respondents were concerned about climate change. What’s more, 93 per cent of Canadians said they would switch to an energy provider with products or services that reduce carbon emissions, and 71 per cent said they’d pay more — an average of 10-per-cent more — to do their part. And as go consumers, so goes corporate.


The initial impact may be most evident on energy providers, but it seems likely it will spread,” says Sander van ‘t Noordende, group chief executive of Accenture’s resources operating group. “From oil and gas companies to retailers to financial services companies to governments, no provider of products or services will be immune from consumers’ scrutiny and action.”


And with that kind of groundswell, employees, too, are looking to their employers to do the right thing, so it’s no surprise that there’s a green movement among law firms across Canada.


Victoria Cowling, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, says her firm is also in the midst of a similar quest to identify immediate changes and longer-term adjustments based on best practices, both within the law sector and other corporate fields.


As in any large organization, the initial stage was to get organized across the country with committees — or green teams, as they’re referred to internally. “In a way we’re lucky because there’s been a lot of work on this in the U.S. and there’s a lot of great information available on the web,” she says.


As other firms have found, there is a bedrock of support for going green among employees and peers across the country. Cowling says there was a flood of offers to help and internal ideas when the initiative was announced.


Perhaps the biggest waste of resources in a law office is found around the printer and copier stations. It’s no secret that a practice feeds on paper — by the ton. The American Bar Association Journal last year reported a typical lawyer uses 20,000 to 100,000 sheets of copy paper in a year, releasing up to 4.5 tons (or just over four metric tonnes) of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions. It’s a startling statistic and one many Canadian firms are reviewing in light of their newly minted green policies, which have instituted new guidelines for printing.


Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, for example, is limiting the printing of pre-bills and publication of orders, instead making copies available in the library. BLG is making two-sided printing the default and is urging its people to put two pages to a sheet when printing draft documents for review, and many firms are now looking at buying recycled paper to feed their printers.


At BLG, lawyers, being as they are a naturally competitive group, also struck on the idea of a contest to see which group of printer users could reduce its consumption of paper the most. “But instead of giving away hats or t-shirts, which will only end up in landfill, we’re going to give [public transit] passes, things like that,” says Cowling.


Taken together, they’re all small steps but giant leaps forward in terms of how firms are thinking about the issue and what they can do about it. So for firms big and small, here’s a list of the 10 best (and quite easy) green practices for law firms:

1. SWITCH IT: Buy power from a sustainable source like Bullfrog Power (www.bullfrogpower.com), which in turn buys contracts from energy companies that harness wind or other renewable sources. It costs a little more, but firms are doing it: McMillan LLP, for example, has signed with Bullfrog Power to use only 100-per-cent green electricity for its power needs at its Toronto client services centre.

2. PARK IT: Encourage staff to opt out of the rush hour a day or two a week and work from home, if possible. They’ll appreciate the serenity and it will cut emissions. Telus Communications Inc. found 82 per cent of employees said telecommuting actually made them more likely to remain a Telus employee. Based on employee suggestions, Gowlings is offering transit tokens as an alternative to taxi chits.

3. POWER IT DOWN: Those constantly running computers, servers, and printers not only draw power but generate heat, which in turn draws more power to run the HVAC. Low-power desktop computers, laptops, and servers use less energy, create less heat, and reduce cooling costs. They also take up less space and — listen closely — they’re quieter.

4. TO RECYCLE OR NOT TO RECYCLE: Stuffing blue boxes with paper, cans, and plastic is great, but sometimes the old fashioned way is better. Gowlings is cutting out plastic water bottles and has given everyone a lunch bag with a reusable set of cutlery, while Borden Ladner Gervais set up green bins and discovered that, since most people were already separating wet garbage at home, it was a natural transition.

5. VIDEOCONFERENCE IT: It’s the next best thing to being there — maybe better. Videoconferencing avoids having to fly across the country or around the world for a 20-minute meeting. One Toronto law firm calls videoconferencing the “killer application for the practice of law. “Lawyers more than anyone love to talk with their hands. They can’t do that on the phone.”

6. OFFSET YOUR CARBON: If you simply have no choice but to fly or drive for business, then offset your carbon emission by buying credits. Air Canada offers the credits through a partnership with www.zerofootprint.net. You’ll find a carbon calculator there and at www.carbonzerocanada.com/aboutcu.php that will help figure how much carbon your business activities generate.

7. KEEP COOL: Business dress used to be a three-piece suit and tie, but few people see it as the norm these days. Many companies institute a casual-clothes summer policy, which allows employees a more relaxed dress code. Cooler employees means the air conditioning doesn’t have to be cranked to high, and it also makes their commute a little more tolerable on those blistering summer days.

8. SEE THE LIGHT: While law firms don’t just pick up and move to energy-efficient offices on a whim, there are many things that can be done with the existing building. Both Ogilvy Renault and Borden Ladner Gervais are in talks with their building managers to reduce energy costs associated with lighting through the replacement of fluorescent tubes and the installation of sensors that automatically turn lights off if no one is in the area.

9. KEEP IT NATURAL: McInnes Cooper in Halifax redesigned its offices to maximize natural light, while Olgilvy Renault is doing the same with its new Montreal offices. Gowlings is putting potted plants in cubicles to cut down air pollution.

10. CUT THE PAPER TRAIL: Still printing out e-mails? Storing them digitally on the server is cheaper and less wasteful. Aside from the paper, think of the physical storage space for all those boxes. Have faxes delivered to the desktop, scan receipts as PDFs, and switch to a digital invoicing system. Ask clients and suppliers if they would like to receive or send invoices electronically to cut down paper. And finally, look at the type of paper you’re using. Xerox recently launched High Yield Business Paper, which is made in Canada with less water and fewer chemicals, cutting greenhouse emissions by 75 per cent. And, because it’s lighter, it costs less to ship or mail.

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