LAW FIRMS IN New South Wales eat up about 334,000 trees a year, a Gadens Lawyers review has revealed. However, the review does not simply lay the blame elsewhere. The firm admitted last week that its annual paper consumption is equivalent to at least eight football fields of Indonesian forest.
Gadens staff learned earlier this year that the firm’s Sydney office consumed 6,972,500 sheets of Indonesian sourced A4 paper in the 2003-04 financial year. This equates to the deforestation of about 11 acres of forest, including 2,266 trees. Each Gadens practitioner, the review revealed, consumed 24 trees worth of paper that year.
The firm has now overhauled its recycling systems, being part of a growing trend for businesses to fulfil their corporate social responsibilities (CSR).
A new environmental management system will introduce a plan for managing the firm’s impact on the environment, Gadens said last week. The firm has put in place new green initiatives, which include using 100 per cent recycled paper, paperless file storage, a recycling service for paper, toner cartridges, glass, plastic and metal, and the transition to the purchase of renewable energy.
“Lawyers are notorious for our paper usage,” Gadens managing partner Michael Bradley said. “Our environmental performance has been a disgrace like everyone else’s, and it’s something that the staff are becoming increasingly keen on. Like most, we have developed quite a refined approach to recycling at home, but are not so effective in the office,” he said.
The initiative, entitled “Greener Gadens”, has been a learning experience and of real practical benefit. I’m proud to be part of a firm that’s taking steps to improve its environmental performance.”
Greener Gadens, is part of the firm’s overall social responsibility program, Third Dimension. Under the program, the firm is improving its environmental performance, getting involved in the community and supporting the arts.
Initiatives such as this mark a growing trend of corporations fulfilling their social responsibilities, according to commentators. There is a current voluntary regime of CSR, which could be replaced by binding laws on how corporations will have to act, said Peter Lanius, director of Juno Consulting, specialists in CSR.
In an article published on e-journal Online Opinion, “Changes Ahead For Corporate Social Responsibility: The Values Tsunami”, Lanius said consumers demand that companies act responsibly and have started to make their purchasing decisions accordingly. But, he said, the corporate response so far has been piecemeal, “and more public relations than substance”.
“Even the largest Australian companies have no more than a handful of staff charged with driving corporate social responsibility. Their budgets remain minute compared to budgets for sponsorship or PR. Only a small percentage of the top 1,000 Australian companies publish a comprehensive social and environmental report,” said Lanius.
Gadens’ Bradley agreed that voluntary CSR is an increasing trend in law firms and businesses generally. He said major institutions are putting a lot of time and money into CSR, and are increasingly looking to their service providers to tell them what they are doing. “We are being asked by some clients what we are doing. There is a momentum growing.”
Fifteen years ago, he said, it would not have occurred to any businesses to ask these questions. “But this will be an increasing trend and we’ll probably ask this of our service providers. I think it will happen that you will predominantly deal with businesses that have a similar approach to your own,” Bradley said.
The Gadens initiative has already produced financial benefits for the firm, it said last week. The 100 per cent recycled paper is cheaper than the paper Gadensformerly used. As well, the Sydney office is now using less paper, and is encouraging paperless file storage, which has seen a cost reduction.
Pressed as to how much the firm had saved in costs, Bradley said “money saving is not really a motivator”. “I mean it’s nice to know it’s not going to cost us money but we’re more interested in not cutting down Indonesian rainforests,” he said.
At the launch of Greener Gadens last week, the firm discussed details of its Green Investment Trust, through which savings from improved environmental practices can be invested in resource trading schemes, which include greenhouse abatement projects. This provides an environmental offset for businesses, the firm said, by enabling them to achieve commercial rates of return.