May 01, 2013

Views from the Chair: Trees, offsets, and recycling—oh my! The Section’s green public service initiatives

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. — M. Gandhi

The brighter days and cool breezes of spring are an invitation to reflect on the opportunities the Section offers to engage in public service activities. This year, we consolidated the Section’s key public service initiatives under the umbrella of a new Section-wide Special Committee on Public Service, chaired by the energetic and visionary Neil Johnston of Hand Arendall, Mobile, Alabama.

The One Million Trees—Right Tree for the Right Place at the Right Time nation-wide public service project is the centerpoint of our current public service efforts. Started in March 2009 as a Section-wide effort, the project was embraced by the ABA as a whole in fall 2012. Co-chaired by Maki Iatridis and Ann Rhodes at Berg, Hill, Greenleaf, & Ruscitti in Denver, this project calls on ABA members to contribute to the goal of planting one million trees across the United States by 2014—both by planting trees themselves and by contributing to partnering tree organizations.

The Section sponsors a tree planning event at most every multi-day program—giving attendees the opportunity to get their hands and boots dirty and to get to know one another before the CLE sessions begin. Through the One Million Trees project with the Section, I personally have had a great time planting trees in Austin, Texas, Salt Lake City, and Orlando, Florida, and look forward to future events. Section members and committees have helped law school environmental law societies, law firm summer associate programs, professional organizations, and state bars hold tree planting events, make the landscape a little greener in places like Detroit, Fitchburg, Wisconsin, the Temecula Gorge-headwaters of the Santa Margarita River, California, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and White Plains, New York.

In addition, the Section’s Special Committee on [ABA] Sections, Divisions, and Forums (SDF) Coordination, through its chair John Milner (Brunini Grantham, Jackson, Mississippi), has brought together representatives of other ABA SDFs to collaborate. We encourage all ABA members to consider organizing a tree planting event or cosponsoring one. Everything you need to know is on the Section’s public service web page. Every tree counts—when I spotted my neighbor planting five cherry trees last spring, he agreed to my registering his trees towards our ambitious goal.

Another way to contribute is to donate to one of the Section’s partnering tree organizations. For as little as a dollar, a tree will be planted on behalf of our project. The Section is even using social media to plant trees! In December 2012, and January and April 2013, the Section contributed $0.50 for every unique Section Facebook user page “like,” up to $1,000 total for the year, to purchase trees as part of the One Million Trees project. As a Chinese proverb notes: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.”

A related project is the ABA-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Law Office Climate Challenge. This project began in 2007, and in 2009 the ABA House of Delegates resolved “[t]hat the American Bar Association urges law firms and other law organizations to adopt the ABA-EPA Law Office Climate Challenge.” The Climate Challenge is co-chaired by Daniel Eisenberg, Beveridge & Diamond, Washington, D.C. and Howard Hoffman, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. It encourages law organizations of all kinds, including law firms, government offices, citizens groups, courts, law schools, non-profit organizations, and other law-related entities to take simple, practical steps to steward environmental and energy resources. An organization can participate by implementing best practices for office paper management, or by joining at least one of three EPA partnership (voluntary) programs that encourage better office paper management, the use of renewable energy, and better energy management—WasteWise (focused on sustainable materials and lifecycle management), the Green Power Partnership (purchase some—or all—of the office’s electricity from renewable sources), and/or ENERGY STAR (adopt an energy management plan and set a goal to reduce your electricity use by at least 10 percent). Check out the current list of more than 300 Law Office Climate Challenge Partners and Leaders and take the next step by filling out the Climate Challenge Enrollment Form.

The Section is also moving towards achieving carbon neutrality for our CLE programs. Co-chaired by Laura Kosloff, a solo practitioner in Portland, Oregon, and John Dernbach, Widener University School of Law, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Achieving Carbon Neutrality effort has estimated that the average participation of an attendee to a Section program generates one metric ton of carbon emissions. For a $20 contribution, a program attendee can offset his/her carbon footprint by purchasing a one-ton carbon credit from a verified offset project that will reduce greenhouse gases. The Section has partnered with Native Energy to contribute to offsets at the Wewoka Biogas Project. At your next Section program, watch for the bright green “Carbon Offset” badge flags to recognize those attendees participating in this growing and important initiative.

Finally, Section committees continue to undertake a variety of important public service projects, such as the stream cleanup held with Keep Austin Beautiful, Texas, by the Waste and Resource Recovery Committee. We have educational materials on the website to allow any member to go to his/her local schools and talk about environmental issues. Indeed, there is no better time to go green and make a difference than today through the Section. To get involved, reach out to me at environ.chair@americanbar.org or to our public service chair Neil Johnston.

In closing, I often think about the powerful simplicity of the words of Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) in The Lorax—“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn is the executive director and general counsel of the Association of Clean Water Administrators.