Green glass. Amber glass. Clear glass. Tin. Aluminum. Plastics up to #3. It used to be that recycling was a chore, one that was delegated to me as soon as I was able to generate the stomping force necessary to crush soda cans. The mandatory cleaning and separating of materials was enough to discourage friends and neighbors. Improvements in sorting techniques and the rise of single-stream waste management have made recycling much easier today than it ever has been before, yet a presumption of inconvenience still comes attached to most sustainability efforts.
It is important to note that becoming more sustainable and being absolutely sustainable is not the same thing. You don’t have to reduce your environmental footprint to zero to make it smaller. Successful sustainability practices are simple and are readily adopted into daily life.
Unfortunately, many small steps that could be taken to conserve resources are ignored because people become stuck in routine. Double-sided printing reduces paper consumption nearly 50% with minimal effort, but even the most high-tech printer will leave half-sheets blank if its user is accustomed to having them that way. Solving the problem of stasis includes evaluating activities on a regular basis and reflecting on how they might be made easier, more efficient, and more eco-friendly.
A Georgetown Law student in the Environmental Law Society encourages a 1L to sign up in a paperless fashion.
The Georgetown Environmental Law Society (ELS) embraces this approach, and recently demonstrated it at the annual Student Orgs Fair. The fair is an opportunity for student groups to raise interest in their causes and for 1Ls to branch out into extracurricular life at law school. It is made up of many tables laid out with spreads of candy and posters highlighting each organization’s values. Most groups also include a sheet of paper and a pen so that students can sign up for newsletters and listserves. ELS uses a laptop instead. We allow students to register their email address with an online spreadsheet that is incorporated into the club’s online address book. All of this is done without paper.
Although this effort saves only a few sheets of paper each year, it is more convenient than the traditional pen and paper approach. Information entered into grids using a keyboard is much easier to read and transfer than the jumble of different scripts it replaces. It is easier, more convenient, and more sustainable. While replacing sign-up sheets at student events may not have a tremendous impact by itself, it illustrates the idea that sustainable practices do not have to be difficult and can even make life easier. All it takes is a little change.
By TJ Graven, Georgetown Law
TJ with a gigantic catfish. TJ loves to fish.
TJ Graven is a 2L at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC and is a member of the Georgetown Law Society. He grew up outside of St. Louis, Missouri and studied at the University of Missouri where he was part of the campus sustainability organization Sustain Mizzou. TJ is an avid conservationist. He enjoys fishing, hunting, and the smell of a sweatshirt after a night around a camp fire.
My name is Molly Cohen, and I am 2L at Harvard Law School. I am very interested in environmental law and issues of sustainability. At HLS, I am active in the environmental law society, and I also am working with Harvard’s Office of Sustainability and Office of Career Services to help organize Green EIP, a voluntary program which encourages law firms to use more sustainable practices when interviewing students on campus.
I’m very interested in studying the interactions of humans and the environment, attempting to understand the somewhat intangible relationship we have with our surroundings. Nature is filled with beauty, but the interplay between humans and the environment can also create works of art. To me, sustainability is humans using their creativity to cooperate with the environment.
Here are a few of my favorite pictures showcasing human ingenuity.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Andy Goldsworthy uses natural found materials to create his art
Molly Cohen has not decided her practice area as of yet, however she is passionate about sustainability. At home she engages in composting and recycling. She regularly utilizes public transportation and rides her bicycle.
Connecting law students to the future of legal sustainability is tantamount to keeping the industry green. ecoAnalyze is developing a nation-wide network of law students called ecoWise. The aim of this student network is to connect students to law firms that have taken steps to become sustainable as well as other law students around the nation.
Students will participate in discussions led by law firms. Students are invited to discuss current and past internship experiences, and begin new discussions regarding legal industry sustainability.
First year, second year, and third year law students with an interest in legal industry sustainability are invited to join on an ongoing basis beginning June 2012. Students will have private access to the ecoWise Discussion Boards and can discuss industry sustainability directly with law firms leading the movement. Participating students will also be the first to know about Law Firm Sustainability Network events and opportunities.
How Do Students Join?
Register with ecoAnalyze today in order to access the ecoWise network in June 2012.
Be the first to know when ecoWise is online this June by joining the mailing list.
According to a sustainability survey on corporate challenges to company-wide implementation, the biggest barrier to success is the pressure to see short-term financial results. The UN-backed survey polled 642 companies in December 2011 and found that 88% of participants felt pressure to have immediate financial gain. A survey released in November 2011 found that 40% of experts in sustainability felt that sustainable practices were incompatible with economic growth.
Sustainable planning in a corporate scenario is not paradoxical to the idea of profit growth. Planning sustainably is similar to a long-term investment, like purchasing a long term maturity bond. With a bond, you must lend a quantity of money and wait over a decade in order to have the nominal amount repaid. When planning sustainably, imagine that a corporation must lend money to itself (take a credit or profit risk) in the hopes that the loan will pay for itself in the future. Therefore, offsetting the pressures of short-term gain could be done by translating initial costs of sustainable practices into long term goals where the long term gains meet or exceed the costs of initiation.
The key to recognizing financial gain is including a monetary translation of social and environmental improvements that would be impacted by the economic aspects of a company’s financial sustainability plan. For instance; if planning to switch all company paper usage to recycled paper in order to save money, then setting deadlines for deliverables would include social and environmental impacts on company profits as well as financial ones.
Let’s say the transition to using recycled paper improved company morale. The improved morale improved employee productivity. Happier employees took shorter paid leave and were more efficient during regular hours. How much did this contribute to the original investiture of switching to recycled paper? In this instance, improved morale translates into financial gain on the original investment. Investing in the future of a company through sustainable planning goes hand-in-hand with economic growth, albeit growth with a less combustive rate.
Where were you when the world went dark? Since Edison first ignited the nocturnal human adventure in 1879 we have found ourselves pooled in the light of never ending activity. We have cities that never sleep and buildings that don’t cast shadows. The power pulsing through an infrastructure as complex as our neural pathways is an allegory to our will to go further and faster than ever before. In a world where we can sleep when we’re dead, why simply stop? Why turn out the lights for WWF Earth Hour?
The idea that humankind is the pinnacle of creation pushed us through the 20th century with a self righteousness that appeared to take us further than ever before. Big business needed bigger profit, and the Industrial Revolution pulled people out of their farm beds and into electrified 16 hour workdays. More workers were needed to operate and craft from a seemingly infinite supply of land, water, and air. It wasn’t until well after the Second Industrial Revolution when we started to light up the world in a much more devastating manner. By June 22, 1969 a branch of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio had caught fire from industrial waste so many times that it caught the attention of the entire nation. The river that “oozed rather than flowed” showed the price of our self-righteous industrial optimism. The fire sparked a national environmental movement that brought about laws that would change the nation forever. President Nixon formed the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Clean Water Act became effective three years later. At that time, corporations and big businesses had to be conscientious of their waste and their impact on the environment.
But this isn’t what we are seeing when big businesses participate in Earth Hour. Earth Hour is an annual event in which participation is completely voluntary. According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than 5,200 cities in 135 countries encouraged individuals and businesses to switch off their lights for one hour in 2011. That is a lot of participation for climate change awareness. Perhaps this event is not just about climate change. Earth Hour ignites the common consciousness of human impact on the environment. To see private corporations and businesses leap forward to support a movement on an international level illuminates a deeper societal understanding of success. It shows that we understand that there is no success without sacrifice. There is no profit worth risking everything for, and that this earth is for all humankind, not just the wealthy. Seeing corporations participate in events like Earth Hour is a sign that profit is no longer measured by cash, but by the successful social and environmental aspects that wisely sustain the flow of those profits.
Next year’s Earth Hour is Saturday, March 30 at 8:30 PM.