Law Firms

One Paper-Pushing Lawyer = Tons of Greenhouse Gases


Lawyers create a lot of carbon dioxide, and it isn’t just from all the hot air generated in courtroom arguments.

A typical lawyer uses 20,000 to 100,000 sheets of copy paper in a year, according to a 2006 sampling of eight law firms of different sizes conducted by Arnold & Porter. The production of all that paper results in the release of up to 4.5 tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions, says Washington, D.C., lawyer Howard Hoffman, who bases his figures on data developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The typical lawyer’s carbon footprint also includes six tons of carbon dioxide generated through electricity use and three tons by commuting, based on national averages for office use and commuting patterns, says Hoffman, who is co-chair of the Air Quality Committee of the ABA Section of Environment, Energy and Resources.

The section wants to lower those figures and help fight global warming. It has partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to launch the ABA-EPA Law Office Climate Challenge: Stop wasting paper. Conserve energy. Use renewable energy resources.

Law offices can participate three ways:

–Adopting best practices for managing paper by using recycled paper products, recycling paper waste and using double-sided paper for copies.

–Buying at least some electricity from renewable sources such as solar cells or wind farms.

–Adopting a plan to reduce energy use by 10 percent.

Arnold & Porter was the first law firm to sign up. Jonathan Martel, a partner in the firm’s environmental law group in Washington, D.C., says the firm focused its early environmental efforts on saving paper, “the lowest hanging fruit,” so to speak, since paper usage was the easiest to control. The firm helped persuade the ABA to include paper savings in its initiative, he says, and that is the conservation element that most firms select when they accept the challenge.

If lawyers nationwide could cut their paper usage in half, he says, “that’s roughly 25 billion pages of paper and millions of trees” that can be saved.

Now Martel’s law firm is trying to save energy and has started donating money to renewable energy and reforestation projects based on the amount of its air travel, according to a press release. The donations are being funded with money set aside for charitable donations.

Arnold & Porter also had to spend some money to put its paper-savings program in place, partly to outfit its printers to print double-sided copies. But “over time we expect to save money, both with respect to energy usage and paper conservation,” says Martel.

The Marten Law Group, an environmental law firm in Seattle, is another environmental leader. It was already recycling paper and giving bus passes to its employees when it signed on to the ABA challenge this year, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports. Half of its employees already walk or bike to work.

The firm was certified for its recycling efforts and is now making efforts to conserve energy and purchase electricity from renewable resources.

The ABA program is co-sponsored by the ABA Law Practice Management Section. Twenty law firms and legal groups have accepted the challenge.

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