February 01, 2012

The Sustainable Law Office

Sustainable Law Office


Welcome to the ABA site that will help you lower your operating costs while conserving precious natural resources. The site is intended to act as an on-line community providing useful tips, an array of contacts and current information to help you succeed in running a "sustainable" law office. This site will be interactive: we not only want to help you, but we also want to hear from you and about you. In the coming months we will add features that will promote interactivity.

"Pro bono service to the environment" is how the Law Firm Waste Reduction Network in Seattle, Washington characterizes law office practices that reduce waste and energy usage and conserve resources . But by minimizing your impact on the environment, your office also will reap savings - in costs of heating, cooling, lighting, equipment operation, and purchase of supplies, among other areas. Employee morale should improve. Your public profile will shine brighter as well.

Why Bother? The legal profession uses enormous amounts of resources, especially paper. With minimal attention to conservation, the practice of law remains inefficient. Heavy use of resources is inconsistent with a sustainable future in which adequate, healthy resources are preserved for future generations. Land use, forestry, air and water quality - all are affected adversely.

Regardless of size, any law office - whether a private firm, non-profit, government agency or law school clinic - can take steps to reduce energy use and waste, thus creating less to be disposed of in landfills, less to be manufactured in the first place and less demand for energy production with its environmental impacts. Strategies range from simple paper recycling to comprehensive replacement of lighting and HVAC systems. While some strategies are more realistically available to building owners, tenants have numerous options for savings. Many organizations stand ready to assist - with guidelines, case studies, hotlines and more. All you have to do is ask .

This web site will get you started with some key strategies to reduce your operating costs and minimize your office's environmental impacts. Along the way we feature real-life examples, offer telling statistics, and explode a few myths. We hope that this resource will help you take the first step or support you on a path you have begun. Both your business and the environment will benefit.

Energy-efficiency, waste reduction, re-use and recycling go right to your bottom line
by substantially reducing operating costs.

Best Practices


If your landlord does not provide a recycling service, consider engaging a private company that provides both document destruction and recycling capability, thus preserving client confidentiality while providing an environmental service.

  • Recycle paper, toner, cans, glass, newspaper, batteries
  • Use recycled and recyclable copier and printer paper, toner, notepads and memo pads
  • Seek higher post-consumer content in recycled paper
  • Install recycled carpets and tile
  • Institute a "green" purchasing policy that incorporates waste reduction into purchasing decisions
  • Purchase refurbished or recycled furniture
  • Join buying clubs to save money on recycled products
  • Donate old binders, magazines and equipment rather than disposing of them
  • Recycle old electronic equipment. Some computer manufacturers, among others, will accept and recycle electronics, thus keeping them out of landfills
  • Use duplex or 2-sided copying
  • Use duplex printing when possible
  • Use "print preview" before printing out documents to reduce multiple drafts
  • Use a spelling check function before printing out documents
  • Encourage responsible transit by taking advantage of tax-subsidized mass transit employee programs
  • Conserve water through low-flow toilets, aerators and water restrictors
  • Provide reusable food & beverage supplies such as stir sticks and mugs
  • Increase alternatives to paper communication (electronic client and in-house newsletters and memos)
  • Request soy-based inks in outside printing jobs
  • Provide recycle boxes in individual offices, conference rooms and common areas
  • Ask building management to have trash separated from recycled paper and newspapers
  • Set forth an appropriate conservation message or directive in your employee orientation manual
  • Reduce use of attachments and other documents as feasible
  • Consider videoconferencing in place of some out-of-town meetings


  • Use screensavers on computers
  • Power down equipment when not in use after specified time periods
  • Shut off office equipment when not needed, such as at nights and on weekends
  • Install automatic lighting controls in irregularly used spaces
  • Turn off unneeded lights
  • Install and set programmable thermostats
  • Close exterior doors to keep out excess heat and cold
  • Make energy-efficiency a decision factor when purchasing equipment
  • Look for the "EnergyStar" energy-efficiency logo when purchasing equipment
  • Participate in the USEPA "Green Lights" program to reduce lighting costs
  • Use electronic ballasts and energy-efficient fluorescents in your lighting
  • Combine equipment functions in one machine, a "hydra" (printer, fax, scanner, copier)
  • Consider electronic filing where feasible

Ask your local public utility to perform a free energy audit of your premises. The audit will identify where energy savings can be attained.

Common Myths

Recycled materials are unattractive and unprofessional .
Truth : While that once was true, recycled paper now comes in a wide range of choices and is as attractive and durable as virgin paper. Recycled materials (toner cartridges and the like) also have improved greatly in quality.

We don't have time to focus on this.
Truth : Many measures have a minimal impact on daily routines, and some measures save time, such as replacing some paper memos with electronic communications.

Waste prevention costs too much.
Truth : Many recommended measures cost little or nothing to carry out. Further, waste prevention saves money by using fewer resources, resulting in reduced waste disposal costs and reduced purchases. 2-sided copying and printing reduce paper usage and thus its cost; non-disposable serviceware reduces the cost of meal and beverage supplies. Shutting off printers and computers nights and weekends lowers energy bills. Underwriting mass transit stipends can cost far less than paid parking spots.
In addition, in some locales, recycling is the law. In other locales, tax incentives are offered to promote efficiency.The State of Maryland at one time eliminated sales tax on certain highly efficient consumer goods for three years, including high-efficiency furnaces and central air-conditioning units. Nearly a dozen other states have offered some kind of sales-tax reduction on energy-efficient products.

My office is too small to take these steps.
Truth : Reducing energy consumption and waste actually can be easier in a small office where there are fewer decision makers before
action is taken; less paper to replace, file, and otherwise deal with; fewer replacement supplies to purchase; smaller archives to move into electronic format, etc.

Turning lights on and off uses more power and costs more than keeping them on.
Truth : Modern systems make it more cost-effective to turn off unneeded lights.

Leaving the heat or cooling at a constant setting is most efficient.
Truth : Using programmable thermostats to set the temperature according to need is easy and far more cost-effective, and, according to the U.S.Department of Energy, provides a 50% rate of return on energy dollars.

It's not workable in the legal profession.
Truth : Court rules are growing more flexible, especially concerning use of recycled paper, and some allow 2-sided copies in some circumstances. Check with your court system.

We're only a building tenant and can't make changes.
Truth : Tenants can make many beneficial changes - in purchasing policies, equipment and furniture disposal, communication methods, powering of equipment, use of lighting, and support for mass transit. Tenants also can work with landlords to achieve office-wide recycling pick-up and disposal and lighting retrofitting, and can negotiate energy usage credit terms in leases.

Clients won't like it.
Truth : A growing number of clients support their lawyers' efforts to conserve resources, and a growing number expect it. Many clients accept documents on recycled content paper and double sided legal documents. Preventing and reducing waste helps build a more efficient business. Public attitudes have made it appropriate and honorable to be "green"; environmental sensitivity builds a law firm's public image.

Finally, energy-efficiency and resource conservation simply make sense. They save you money while helping to preserve natural resources needed in the future.