Law firms making the case for sustainable buildings
Law firms moving to new offices used to outfit them with traditional designs – wood-paneled walls, window-less interior offices for junior associates and paralegals and the oversized corner offices for senior partners.
Law firms over the past few years have gone green, focusing on sustainability, according to a report in the New York Law Journal.
The EPA defines green building as the "practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction."
As a part of a sustainable building, law firms see the green office incorporating many things, such as more availability of occupants to see the outdoors (fewer inner Sheetrock-walled offices); use of paints with low levels of VOC (volatile organic compounds), varnishes and products; premises located near public transportation; reduced energy consumption methods such as LED lighting, task-based lighting controls and motion/infrared light sensors; high energy-star-rated equipment; equipment energy step-downs at the end of the day; improved HVAC controls with better air filters; air ducts cleaned regularly; outside fresh air intakes; low-volume water fixtures; a formal recycling/reusing/reduction policy; green cleaning and pest control; reduced paper consumption having printers with defaults printing paper on both sides or with shrunken margins and the purchase of recycled paper; ordering reduced packaging from vendors; and any build-outs/alterations done in the most sustainable manner.
In many cases, law firms are moving to, or building out, space that is LEED-certified, the New York Law Journal reports. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. It is a product of the U.S. Green Building Council's certification arm — the Green Building Certification Institute. The LEED rating system is a program in which properties can obtain one of four levels of certification — certified, silver, gold and platinum. To reach each level of certification, the project needs to satisfy prerequisites and obtain credit points for certification. The more credits earned, the higher the rating.
LEED is one of a handful of rating systems available. Others include the Green Building Initiative's Green Globes rating, the Living Building Challenge, Energy Star and ASHRAE (formed as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers). The concepts are basically the same — a method to encourage property owners or tenants to become more sustainable and to award certification to those that achieve it. Many systems use a holistic approach in their certification methodologies and look at energy and potable water consumption, site selection, materials used in construction and furniture, indoor environmental quality and heating and cooling.
Law firms are making their efforts in sustainability known. In most cases, large firms state on their websites certain facts about sustainability endeavors. Some claim achievements in a percentage of how many of their offices are LEED-certified and certain cities where the rating is high. Many have added to their mission statements that they are dedicated to promote environmental or sustainable leadership, that they have recycling programs, that they are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and if they are a member of the ABA-EPA's Law Office Climate Challenge.
Other firms have developed sustainable and green development practice groups and still others, in addition to having a green practice, publish newsletters covering sustainability-related or renewable energy related topics, surveys and advisories on climate change and/or have green law blogs. A Sept. 10, 2014, Law360 article reported that firms such as Sheppard Mullin, Holland & Knight, Dykema Gossett, Orrick Herrington and Reed Smith are all benefitting from green legal work and as Simon T. Adams, a partner of Reed Smith, stated, this trend will just "spread across the U.S."
Law firms also tout policies of using video conferencing to reduce travel, purchasing Energy Star appliances and employing emails to communicate with and transmit documents to clients instead of using paper.
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