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These days every law firm seems to talk the talk about “going green,” but Nixon Peabody wanted action. So last November, the firm named Carolyn Kaplan, a counsel in the firm’s Boston office, as chief sustainability officer. Kaplan looks for ways to make the firm’s own operations more environmentally friendly and for opportunities to work with clients on sustainability efforts. She also co-chairs the renewable energy team in the firm’s energy and environmental practice group. What do you do as chief sustainability officer? My primary role internally is to work with our chief administrative officer, Mary McGuire, and a firmwide Green Operations Steering Committee. This committee consists of eight people — myself, Mary, four office administrators from around the firm, the director of local IT operations, and the firm’s director of purchasing. We have conference calls once a week, lasting an hour and a half. And we e-mail frequently. Throughout the firm, we’ve created local sustainability teams, comprised of volunteers — both attorneys and staff — who are interested in these kinds of issues, as well as managers from library, accounting, IT, and food services. The purpose of the teams is to identify within their own offices areas where we can improve sustainability. And they report up, through their meeting minutes, to the Green Operations committee. We review those minutes and determine which ideas can be implemented firmwide.
What kinds of ideas does this committee discuss? The Green Operations committee has identified seven priority areas: education and outreach, purchasing, paper reduction, waste reduction and recycling, construction, travel and commuting, and energy conservation. For example, we’ve decided to use 30 percent recycled content paper firmwide. We’d like to go higher than that in the future — 50 percent, 100 percent. But higher recycled content is more expensive so we’re trying first to achieve savings by using less paper. Our docu-centers are capable of printing double-sided copies, and printers at all secretarial stations will soon be able to print on both sides. (We’re in the process of installing printer components that will allow this.) Savings generated by using less paper can then lead back to the purchasing of paper with higher recycled content. So there’s some balancing that has to go on.
Have you met with any resistance from lawyers or staff? We’ve received a lot of positive feedback. Education, outreach, and involvement are all important aspects. We’ve launched an internal page on our intranet with a lot of usable information on green business development as well as what we’re doing internally. The intranet page also includes tips for green practices at home. People need to have a good understanding about the benefits of changing their behavior. The more people understand the impact on the environment of, for example, turning their computers off at night, the more likely that they’ll do it. A computer shutdown policy has been in place for a long time, but people don’t always remember. So we’re explaining the amount of energy savings that can be achieved if everyone participates in turning off computers at night and on the weekends. Once they start to do this, people say, �Wow, it’s not that big a deal.’ Not everybody is going to be happy about every green policy. When we tested double-sided copying, for instance, some people were resistant. But the majority of people said, �This is something I can live with.’
Are there some ideas that didn’t work? Not all ideas are feasible in every office. For instance, not every office has access to public transportation or a dishwasher to clean ceramic dishes. And someone once said, �Why doesn’t the firm have hybrid vehicles?’ Well, the firm owns only one car.
Tell me about LEED certification. That is a standard developed by the U.S. Green Building Council for new and renovated buildings. Our office out in San Francisco takes great pride in the fact that we are the first law firm to receive LEED certification in the category of commercial interiors. When the San Francisco office moved to a new location last year, they decided to apply for LEED certification. We’ve decided this is important enough that all Nixon Peabody offices will apply for LEED certification when they undertake major renovations. So our Albany office is currently building out new space, and they are working with architects that specialize in LEED certification issues. And our New York City office is going through the same process.
Is seeking LEED certification a costly decision? Is LEED-certified office space going to be a lot more expensive? No, there are many ways to actually achieve savings. Is it going to look shoddy? No, the San Francisco office is beautiful. There are some increased costs, but there is a payback in savings from such things as using energy-efficient light bulbs and a lot of natural lighting. Of course, when something green costs more, we try to identify other ways to offset those costs.
What else is the firm planning to do? Where do you get your ideas? We look to other organizations’ guidelines and try to incorporate ideas that work in our case. The American Bar Association and Environmental Protection Agency have a joint Law Office Climate Challenge program, and we are a signatory. As part of that, we’re ensuring that we have implemented recycling procedures, improved waste management procedures, and increased the recycled content of our paper. Also as part of the program, we’re becoming a Green Power Partner by buying a percentage of our power from new sources of renewable resources, essentially by purchasing energy credits. Here in Massachusetts, the bar has developed green guidelines applicable to law firms. I participated in that process, identifying some of the areas for improvement. Oregon has some great guidelines, too. I’ve been asked to serve on a task force for the California State Bar to establish guidelines. And I can’t give enough credit to our personnel for their ideas. I get frequent e-mails from attorneys and staff suggesting improvements. These all go into the mix.
How much of your time are you spending on this? It’s not a full-time job. I’m still practicing law. But for the first five months, I’ve probably spent 50 percent of my time on this. I anticipated it would be that much initially. The hope is that over time we will have more policies and procedures in place so that it can all run smoothly with less input from me. To be honest, it’s very rewarding so I don’t mind the extra work.
Has anything about this whole process proved surprising? I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response. Our people have been very eager to get involved. We’ve heard from a lot of publications. I’ve received phone calls from former law-school mates and from colleagues, asking to talk because they want to institute something in their own firms. When it comes to clients or business in general, there really is a strong amount of interest and even encouragement. For instance, there were close to 200 people at the Association of Legal Administrators’ presentation in February. [Kaplan participated in a panel discussion moderated by Legal Times ' editor in chief, David Brown.]
Why are you standing in front of a Zipcar in the photo? At Nixon Peabody, four of our offices have been participants in Z2B [Zipcar for Business] programs for a number of years. We’re developing a program with Zipcar for firmwide participation. The goal is to cover the membership fee for anyone in the firm who wants to join, giving everyone reduced rates. Zipcar has locations in at least six of the cities where we have offices — San Francisco, D.C., Boston, New York, Chicago, and London. I’ve actually been using Zipcars for years for personal and business travel. I find it a fantastic way to reduce the number of cars on the road. It certainly beats looking for a parking space when I get home from a late-night meeting. And it’s one more way of going “legally green.”

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