By Lesley Lammers for the Green Chamber of Commerce
In a recent interview, William Acevedo, Green Business Practice Group leader at Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP illuminated why sustainability is a culture change, not a fad, and explored how his firm is leading the green revolution in law…
LL: What advice do you have for others in your industry who are trying to be more “green”?
WA: For all types of businesses, the important thing to remember is that the process of becoming more green is just that – a process. Start with the low-hanging fruit. Embrace a culture of education and transparency. You won’t be able to make all changes overnight, but by continuously looking for opportunities to improve the efficiency of your operations, reduce your consumption of goods and energy, and educate your company about green initiatives, you’ll start to notice the cumulative effect of your efforts.
LL: Have you faced any obstacles in the process of trying to be a sustainable business? If so, how did you or how do you continue to overcome them?
WA: In the beginning of any big initiative there are always those people within the organization who are reticent to change. It challenges people to think outside of their comfort zone or to break and rebuild habits of behavior. In our case, we built a change team that included people from all areas and roles within the firm. By including multiple voices in the planning process, we were able to identify how the implementation of an idea in one area might impact other areas. This allowed us to mitigate negative impacts and streamline the transition process. We also found that the employee morale and the recruiting benefits for the firm were directly impacted by our green program. That really created ongoing inspiration to keep pushing ourselves.
LL: Can you describe specifically your sustainable business practices?
WA: We’ve implemented numerous changes throughout the firm, both big and small. As lawyers, our industry uses an unconscionable amount of paper. The courts now require 30% recycled content in paper submitted to them. Our firm goes further and uses 100% post consumer waste recycled paper for both work product and marketing materials. We look to green suppliers and products wherever we can, cut waste, recycle and compost. We share information that allows our business and employees in their personal lives to adopt more sustainable practices. We were the first law firm in the country to be certified as a green business and we’ve been through two recertifications with the Bay Area Green Business Program since then. Our Green Business Practice group is a member of 1% For the Planet, by which we donate one percent of our annual revenues to approved environmentally-focused non-profits. Most recently, the firm became a B Corporation, furthering our commitment to being an environmentally sound law firm with a commitment to good corporate citizenry.
Our efforts have not gone unnoticed. We’ve been recognized locally and national for our green practices in publications including the San Francisco Business Times and the National Law Journal.
LL: What does sustainability mean to you?
WA: Sustainability isn’t an initiative or a fad. It’s a culture change. We’ve been on this path for a number of years. Sustainability is recognizing your impact on your surroundings and then doing what you can to make a change for the better. As new ideas, products and information become available, you have to be open to change. It’s about being authentic. You don’t have to be perfect, but you should be open to finding opportunities to improve. It’s also about being part of community of people and businesses that embrace those same values. The more we are able to support each other, the stronger we become as an economic force.
LL: Do you see any trends emerging in your industry around conservation and sustainability?
WA: Certainly there are many law firms that are now paying attention to sustainability. Some of those firms may be true believers, others may be simply trying to tap into a marketing trend. That being said, many firms (especially in the Bay Area) continue to reduce their own environmental impacts. It’s much more common to walk into a law firm here and see cans for waste, recycling and composting and email signature blocks that ask the receiver to think before printing. Firms are joining organizations like the Green Chamber and 1% For the Planet, and/or seeking independent certifications of their operations through the Bay Area Green Business Program and B Corporation, to name a few. Law firms are using their traditional business connections to help launch or sustain growth at emerging green business companies. The Bar Associations at various local, state, and national levels are all engaged in educating their members about green business and legal issues. We applaud these types of efforts.
LL: Is there anything unique about your business that you want Green Chamber members to know?
WA: Yes. We’re looking to work with the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. When we launched our Green Business Practice Group in 2003, only a select few clients and friends of the firm really paid attention. As our dedication to green business deepened, we began attracting a lot of attention from potential clients and competitors. Given our pioneering efforts, we understand the motivations (and, sometimes, the frustrations) of being on the vanguard of business initiatives.
In our practice, we’re seeing green economy companies that launched within the last few years maturing and on the verge of major expansion. Because of our long history working within the green business community, we’re well positioned to help these companies identify opportunities, spot potential pitfalls and execute their growth strategies in a thoughtful way. They are suddenly tackling issues ranging from complex contracts, licensing and distribution agreements, or protecting intangible assets such as trademark portfolios and trade secrets, to managing an expanding workforce and purchasing or leasing real estate to run their growing operations. Green and CSR issues can touch all of those aspects of running a business, and there are aspects that probably would not occur to a lawyer practicing solely with “traditional” businesses.
We regularly host green business seminars and events at our office, and our attorneys are very active in the Green Chamber, Build It Green, the USGBC, B Corporation, and 1% For the Planet, to name a few organizations. In addition, we’re engaging our clients, potential clients, and friends on Facebook (www.facebook.com/wendelrosen) and Twitter (@WendelRosen). We invite other Chamber members to connect with us in those online communities, as well as in the real world.
LL: Why did you decide to join with the Green Chamber and how has it impacted your business?
WA: For one thing, the Green Chamber is a pioneer in its own right. We respect the tremendous initiative and success of the Green Chamber to engage other leading-edge businesses and create a forum for triple bottom line-oriented businesses to become engaged.
For professional service providers, like attorneys, it is important to develop relationships with people you trust. Being a part of the Green Chamber allows us to further develop our network with companies that share our values. We find the educational and networking opportunities that the Chamber supports a great way to connect with like-minded businesses. Thank you, Green Chamber!