Green Efficiency Tips

Looking for some quick advice to help make your law practice more environmentally friendly—and less expensive? Here are some suggestions culled from the Technology & Practice Guide Editorial Board and the good folks on the SoloSez online community.

Installing a $50 programmable electronic thermostat can save you hundreds of dollars per year on utilities while ensuring your preferred office temperature every time you arrive in the morning. Program the thermostat so that, when you are not in the office, the heater or air conditioner turns on only if the temperature reaches an extreme (say, 60 degrees for the heater, 90 degrees for the air conditioner). Then set it to return to the working temperature about 45 minutes before you normally arrive at the office. These thermostats can usually be programmed on a seven-day cycle, so you can set the temperature for the extremes over the weekend, too. They can always be overridden if you are working late or on the weekend.

If you have an electric water heater at your office, get a programmable timer for it. Set it so that it is off during the hours you are not at work. There is no need to heat a tankful of water when no one is using it. Because hot water demands in an office are typically much lower than in homes, you also might consider turning off the main water heater altogether and installing smaller, instant water heaters at the hot water sources in the office.

When you need to write on paper, write on both sides of the page. Then scan your notes using the duplex setting in your scanner. And keep a paper recycling basket invitingly close to your In Basket.

Use a small netbook to carry around all your meeting information, agendas, and paperwork. At meetings and court there is no need to print out the information and use reams of paper. Just work from the computer.

Try a paper recylcing service. One Editorial Board member pays a mere $70 per month to a recycling company, which provides him a secure box to dump all his paper and then collects, pulverizes, and recycles it.

Learn how to use portable document format (PDF) files to streamline your practice and save paper. If you receive paper correspondence, scan it and run the optical character recognition (OCR) function available in software such as Adobe Acrobat. Now you have a fully searchable document. Acrobat can even create bookmarks to index the document. As new documents come in, just use the Combine function in Acrobat to add them to the existing file.

Did you know that one lawyer can use up to 100,000 sheets of paper each year? Find ways to save a few trees. If your printer or copier has a duplex setting, make that the default. If you don’t have the option to go duplex, try printing your non-essential documents and drafts on the blank backs of used pages before sending them to recycling. It’s a two-for-one deal.

Plants are cheaper and more attractive than humidifiers—and they serve the same function.

When you dispose of computers and the like, be mindful of data security, but don’t just adopt a “shred everything” approach. You could be greatly reducing the useful life of your hardware. Instead, consider recycling. Helpful tips for recycling your technology can be found at .

Don’t just recycle: Reuse. That’s real cost savings. Reuse old file folders, get ink refills for your pens (rather than buying entirely new pens), and try refilling inkjet cartridges for your printers.

Make it easy to turn off equipment that doesn’t need to be on when you are away from your desk. To do this, use a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and a separate surge-suppressing power strip with an on/off switch. Keep the power strip within easy reach of your desk chair. Plug the computer, USB hub, and anything else that must stay on into the UPS. Plug everything else into the power strip and simply flip it off when you leave your desk. Better yet, plug the power strip into a timer that you program to turn off at the end of the day and on again at the start of the day.

Outfit your office with used furniture. One attorney on SoloSez wrote that the only new things she bought for her office were a bookshelf and a plant. Everything else was either given to her, bought used, or (believe it or not) found on the curbside. And it still looked great.

Replace all the incandescent bulbs in your office. Modern compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are available both in a “blue” and “yellow” coloration, the latter being a close match to incandescent lighting. CFLs are not dimmable, but they are such a low wattage that the energy savings are outstanding—and they last longer than incandescent bulbs, too. Even better, try the new light emitting diode (LED) bulbs. LED bulbs cost a bit more, but they can last up to ten times longer than fluorescent ones, use less energy, and are more environmentally friendly. And here’s something truly simple: If your office has sufficient sunlight, try leaving the electric lights off during the day.

Try hard floors. Yes, most offices have carpeting, but carpets are generally full of VOCs (volatile organic compound—which are potentially hazardous). Carpets also harbor a large amount of dirt and spores, making the air around them less healthy. And cleaning a carpet requires specialized and/or toxic equipment. A wood, tile, or concrete floor requires merely a broom to clean and does not have any tendency to harbor dust. Also, hard floors are generally able to be refinished rather than replaced. Some can last 100 years or more.

Check out the Green Guide for Lawyers (, a best practices handbook from the Meritas Leadership Institute.

Finally, take the ABA-EPA Law Office Climate Challenge. This joint program of the ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is designed to encourage law offices to take simple, practical steps to become better environmental and energy stewards. For more information, see


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