Sustainable Practices: How a Law Firm Hits the Gold-Star Standard in Its Office Design

Volume 37 Number 1

By

About the Author

Terry Carroll serves as a market intelligence manager for Kimball Office, where he focuses on external market trends, end-user evaluations, competitive intelligence and industry technologies. Kimball Office, a leader in fine workplace furnishings, is a business unit of Kimball International, Inc.

Organizations of all kinds are increasingly committed to developing an environmentally friendly workplace, which includes embracing green building practices. And for many businesses, that means achieving U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which positions them as environmental leaders and innovators within their industry and community. Here’s how law firm Reed Smith went about that goal, reducing its space needs and overhead expenses and enhancing employee collaboration in the process.

When Reed Smith, one of the world’s largest law firms, decided to move its Pittsburgh offices into eight floors of the city’s new Reed Smith Center, it knew it wanted to follow the corporate goal of developing an environmentally friendly workplace. But when it embraced the goal of matching or exceeding LEED certification standards, it found that additional challenges—and benefits—were involved.

Part of achieving LEED certification meant increasing access to daylight, investing in furnishings that were manufactured with the environment in mind, and reducing the overall footprint of the office. The following recounts how those goals were realized.

Featuring Open Views and Eco-Friendly Furnishings

The new Reed Smith Center includes windows that stretch from floor to ceiling and allow daylight to flow through the office. “We wanted to have open views to the outside, so employees could look out and see the cityscape, Mount Washington, Heinz Field and the various aspects of the city,” says Jim Rudisill, director of Pittsburgh Market Operations for Reed Smith. “It was important for us to have natural sunlight in the space, and through the furnishings we chose, we were able to affect that.”

The choice also helps to reduce energy usage, a key LEED metric. Plus, to help achieve the office’s LEED-certification goal, the furnishings that the firm selected positively contribute to indoor air quality (IAQ) requirements and were produced using sustainable manufacturing practices. Since the indoor environment category offers the third highest number of points available toward LEED certification, a building can’t attain its greatest sustainability potential without taking IAQ into consideration. The categories of energy and atmosphere as well as sustainable sites offer the most credits.

Another element was the firm’s use of eco-friendly wood components. Wood is a renewable resource, and when harvested from properly managed forest tracts, it can play a significant role in sustainable building practices because it can be used throughout a building, from structural elements to the trim and furnishings. Reed Smith chose maple wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC certification provides builders and designers assurance that the wood products selected were harvested and processed in a sustainable manner.

In addition to the increased daylight and furnishings contributing toward LEED credits, the firm made another striking move: The new space was intentionally designed to be smaller than the previous Pittsburgh space—approximately 28,000 square feet less to be exact; the overall space is 191,000 square feet. By reducing the office footprint and converting many resources to digital files, Reed Smith is saving money on utility expenses, waste and the amount of materials needed to furnish the space. The move to a smaller space has also increased the interaction among employees.

Supporting Collaboration with a New Kind of Design

Over the past several years, the sizes of private offices and cubicles have steadily decreased. According to the International Facility Management Association, senior management -offices have shrunk approximately 13 percent and professional offices as much as 15 percent. Two or three years ago the most common cubicle size was 8-by-8 feet, but over time, it too has drifted downward and a 6-by-6 feet cubicle is now more common. In addition, not only are workstations getting smaller, but cubicle heights are becoming lower in an effort to allow daylight to filter farther into a building and to encourage employee collaboration.

At Reed Smith, as in many offices, collaboration plays a critical role in productivity, so the firm easily recognized the importance of aligning its team members’ space to effectively and efficiently service lawyer and client needs. “Secretaries work in teams and we integrate staff services and firm resources into those teams,” says Rudisill. “By using secretarial pods, which encourages collaboration, and through strategic placement of service departments on the various practice floors, a conference center, and the placement of the practice groups, everyone who needs to coordinate on a project can easily do so.”

Of course, by reducing the footprint, Reed Smith faced the challenge of overcoming the perception that moving into a smaller space meant less workspace. Fortunately, few employees noticed the smaller footprint because a thorough plan had been created for efficient space division and storage. Converting research materials into digital form and reducing the size of partners’ offices saved a significant amount of space.

“In our old building we had offices that were 275 square feet; however, in the new building, offices are around 210 square feet. We wanted the smaller space to seem just as open, and with the furnishings we chose we were successful with our transition,” says Rudisill.

To create visual cohesiveness throughout Reed Smith’s eight floors, and distinguish each level of personnel, a variety of materials were incorporated in the design, including laminate and metal as well as wood. This mixture allowed paralegal workstations to appear different from associates’ spaces, but still provided a consistent look and feel throughout the entire office. In addition, the partners were able to mix and match furnishings for their offices, and associates and paralegals had a choice between different types of pedestals and cabinets. During the design process, each one also made decisions on where components would be placed, to support their specific work style.

Meeting Today’s Clients with a Contemporary Flair

For Reed Smith, downsizing and shifting from traditional law firm aesthetics was difficult at first, but maintaining part of the customary wood look and adding mixed materials helped in the transition. The facility now presents a contemporary style with sustainable qualities. “We wanted our clients to enter our new space and know we are keeping ahead of the times and are able to meet their demands in today’s changing economy,” says Rudisill.

In only eight weeks, Reed Smith transitioned from a traditional-looking law firm office to one better equipped to accept new technologies, meet the demands of today’s workforce and provide a healthy, sustainable environment. In the end, all facets of the firm’s Pittsburgh office met LEED standards and incorporated the personality of its people while maintaining the professional -image for which the firm is known.

A Quick Introduction to LEED

LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building project is environmentally responsible, profitable and a healthy place to work and live. It provides verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. To learn more about the LEED certification system, what it measures, what it delivers and how to get started, go to www.usgbc.org/leed.

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Small Firm Tips for Creating a Greener Office

Small firms looking to increase their office’s sustainability, but not physically reduce square footage, can start by recycling paper, cans, cardboard and ink cartridges. In addition, conducting an audit of energy usage can lead to savings while reducing the office’s carbon footprint through measures such as turning off lights in conference rooms when they’re not being used, installing efficient water fixtures and water heating, and identifying ways to limit paper use. Here are some other quick tips.

 

Reduce the height of cubicle panels. This simple change can allow more natural light to flow through the office, successfully reducing energy costs and the need for additional lighting. Lower panels can also lead to increased employee collaboration.

 

Layer workspace. Layering work surfaces and storage is a great way to take advantage of existing square footage and reduce an office’s footprint.

 

Use recycling bins. Make it easy for employees to recycle by placing specific bins in copy rooms, kitchens, social areas and individual workstations.

 

Review furnishing design standards and certifications. Find out if the manufacturers you use follow the U.S. EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) guidelines; meet Business and Institutional Furniture Manfacturer’s Association (BIFMA), Greenguard or Scientific Certification System (SCS) standards; and use Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood.

 

Turn off the lights. Encourage employees to turn off the lights in unoccupied rooms, or consider installing motion sensors that detect traffic in a space and automatically turn lights on and off. While you’re at it, encourage them to power down desktop -computers at the end of the workday, too.