The past few years have seen a renewed concern about the harm that misuse and overuse of natural resources cause to an increasingly fragile global environment. And let’s face it: As members of a profession that generates mountains of paperwork annually, we lawyers contribute more than our share to a serious problem. According to the latest ABA report, a single lawyer can use as many as 100,000 sheets of printer and copier paper in just one year. That’s the equivalent of a half-ton of paper.
What’s more, the life cycle of that half-ton of paper, from production to recycling, translates to the equivalent of more than four tons of greenhouse gas emissions. And if that paper is deposited in a landfill, add another ton of carbon dioxide to that leather wing-tip or Manolo Blahnik footprint.
The good news is that as inside counsel we are uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in the promotion of environmentally sustainable practices in our own companies and in the companies with which we do business.
At my company, Kaplan Higher Education (KHE), we take environmental sustainability very seriously. Over the past year and a half, we have begun implementing paper and energy reduction practices, starting with small, high-profile measures while looking to the future with larger-scale, technical initiatives to further reduce waste.
At KHE, foam and paper cups are a thing of the past. Each employee now has an attractive stainless steel travel mug bearing our logo and the tag line “Earth Day Every Day.” By doing this, we save paper, remind our employees that environmental sustainability starts with the individual and reinforce our internal branding, which makes the marketing folks happy. More than 90 percent of all types of paper we purchase have at least 30 percent post-consumer recycled content. And we capture more than 90 percent of discarded paper by providing easy access to recycling bins.
As a companywide initiative, but especially in the legal department, we promote the use of existing technology to reduce or at least make the best use of the paper we consume. We discourage the use of paper files in favor of electronic, searchable databases, and we encourage black-and-white, double-sided printing and copying.
Our energy reduction efforts also leverage existing technology. We vastly reduce travel and associated environmental costs by utilizing telephone, video and web-conferencing technology whenever possible. And as office equipment wears out, we replace it with more efficient Energy Star-labeled equipment that makes use of power-down management software and screensavers.
Our future technology plans include more sophisticated electronic records and document management systems that enable electronic archiving and online collaboration, which will allow us to “just say no” to printing. Granted, making the transition from paper to onscreen composition and editing is not an easy one. With practice and encouragement from our peers, however, most of us will make the switch with little effort.
When it comes to KHE’s brick-and-mortar schools and universities, we have made energy-efficient choices for the facilities we own and, where possible, encouraged our landlords, management companies and suppliers to adopt energy-saving practices.
Whether small or large, basic or high tech, environmentally sustainable practices start with taking personal responsibility and encouraging those around us to make changes that satisfy our current needs while preserving our planet’s resources for the future. It’s a daily effort that will provide better–greener–peace of mind for us and our organizations.