Firms across the globe face increased pressure to cut energy consumption, clean up supply chains, and invest in sustainable solutions. Those that answer the call are finding a host of additional benefits, from improved office culture to financial savings.

A report from the Law Firm Sustainability Network surveyed firms with sustainability initiatives. They found these direct results:

  • 74% reported improved employee morale
  • 59% saw greater cost efficiencies
  • 51% saw a boost in reputation, appealing to clients and improving their recruitment efforts.
  • 22% have already seen a positive effect on revenue due to sustainability programs.

How can your firm go green? Sustainability comes in many forms. Here are 7 ideas to get you started:

1. Find your environmental leaders

The best ideas will flounder without a committed leader or team to make them a reality.

Baker McKenzie recently made waves by naming its first Chief Sustainability Officer, to lead its global sustainability strategy. Find the members of your own team that are most passionate about sustainability issues and give them the mandate to move forward. Make sure they have the authority and resources they need to make the changes that will benefit the Earth—and your firm.

2. Go paperless

The average office worker uses up 10,000 sheets of paper annually. About 45% of that ends up in the trash by the end of the day it was created.

Offices account for a large portion of the 69 million tons of paper products the U.S. uses every year. Cutting down on paper not only saves forests — it also helps with soil erosion and water pollution as well.

According to our own estimates, Filevine has saved over 35,000 trees by hosting legal documents digitally.

Cutting out paper can save some other green as well. When the SEC went paperless, they calculated it would save them $2 billion over 10 years on paper and mailing costs. In most offices, paper costs around $80 per employee per year. Add to this the costs of toner, filing cabinets, mailing, copiers, fax machines, shredders, staplers, paper clips, folders, and the extra office space needed to store those mammoth filing cabinets.

Paperless firms are also more productive and efficient, with fewer lost documents, better collaboration, and easier document retrieval.

With your firm’s paper use, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” Take incremental steps to move the firm toward a modern digital practice. For support and ideas, check out our Ultimate Guide to Going Paperless.

3. Get on the cloud

The year 2020 was a massive argument in favor of cloud-based legal practices. But the public cloud holds surprising environmental benefits as well.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the cloud has led to 77% fewer servers, 84% less energy usage, and an 88% reduction in carbon emissions. Large data centers create efficiencies that are out of reach for scattered, decentralized private servers. The report concluded:

If all U.S. business users shifted their email, productivity software, and CRM software to the cloud, the primary energy footprint of these software applications might be reduced by as much as 87% or 326 Petajoules. That’s enough primary energy to generate the electricity used by the City of Los Angeles each year (23 billion kilowatt-hours).

As many of the biggest data centers rapidly transition to renewable energy, the cloud promises to offer increasing sustainability benefits for users.

4. Cut the commute

Of course, the cloud offers additional environmental benefits as well. With all of your files, notes, and tasks accessible from every device, you can skip the commute and work from home.

According to the EPA, the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Firms can counter this by allowing remote work, either full-time or on a hybrid model.

This increased flexibility can also improve workplace morale. The average commute eats up nearly an hour each day. That’s time that legal professionals can instead spend with their families or taking care of their health. No wonder 80% of workers would like to work from home at least some of the time.

Here are some other ways to cut down on transportation:

  • Connect virtually instead of burning up jet fuel on frequent business flights.
  • Give clients e-signature options so they can securely sign forms from their phone or computer instead of coming into your office.
  • Encourage greener commute methods, such as walking, biking, and public transport.

5. Change your energy use

Cut down on energy bills by using Energy Star appliances, smart thermostats, LED light bulbs, and motion sensors that turn power off on their own. Avoid “phantom power” by turning off computers at night and unplugging unused appliances.

Also take a look at your renewable energy options. Many utilities offer businesses the chance to purchase from renewable energy sources for a small premium. Keep in mind that the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) allows you to deduct 26% of the cost of solar power from your federal taxes for residential and commercial systems in 2021 and 2022. This will decrease to 22% in 2023 and 10% in 2024 for commercial and utility-scale solar systems.

To make your commitment official, your firm can also join the EPA Green Power Partnership. The program offers you a structure for your efforts, including benchmarks, information, technical assistance, and public recognition.

6. Source more sustainably

Anything you buy in the office probably has a sustainable equivalent.

Your office supplies, furniture, and even in-office snacks can all be more sustainably sourced. Don’t ignore your cleaning supplies. Eco-friendly cleaning supplies and custodial services are also better for the health of workers.

Instead of endless styrofoam cups, use permanent mugs. Go back to coffee presses or drip coffee instead of using those trendy pods (which typically are neither recyclable nor biodegradable).

Adopt a ‘no landfill’ policy with your electronics, making sure that each item is remarketed, donated, or recycled after use. Join the EPA’s WasteWise program for more information and resources on reducing waste and using more sustainable materials. You can also gain public recognition through EPA awards for your efforts. 

7. Join the bigger movement

In every community, there are groups of committed people working to protect land, water, and air. Find them and give them your support. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Sponsor a local environmental group or event. A modest donation can go a long way to fix environmental problems, motivate volunteers, and demonstrate publicly your commitment to the long-term well-being of your community.
  • Join an activity as a team. Is there an initiative to build a community garden, plant trees, or clean up a river? Spending time together on a meaningful project outside the office can build a sense of teamwork and improve morale.
  • Give your employees ‘volunteer time off.’ This is an extra day of paid time off which lawyers and staff can spend on volunteer work.
  • Implement pro bono work for environmental causes.
  • Match donations your members make to an environmental cause.
  • Join the Law Firm Sustainability Network to get news, networking opportunities, and updates on ways law firms can leverage their power to improve the environment.
  • Create your own initiative. Two Nixon Peabody partners made a splash when they formed their own solar energy nonprofit, New Partners Community Solar Corp. They install solar panels on office buildings in Washington, produce renewable energy, and generate billing credits which they give to affordable housing tenants in the city (about $250 in credits per person each year). This might be too ambitious a project for many firms, but it shows that the sky’s the limit for professionals who are passionate about sustainability.

Legal professionals—especially those from the younger generation—tend to feel greater loyalty to employers who act on their values. They want their work to make the world a better place. By supporting broader environmental initiatives, you can also improve your recruitment and employee retention metrics.

When you decide on your environmental commitments, be sure to share the news with your clients and communities. Not only does it give you good press, you help inspire others to take actions of their own.

Let your vendors know about your efforts and ask about their own sustainability measures. Expand your impact by teaming up with businesses that are also doing what they can to become more sustainable.