Law firms are lagging behind other professional service industries in the sustainability stakes according to design experts.
Deacons made sustainability a priority for its new Sydney office at Grosvenor Place (see Busy Lawyer p30), however Mark Simpson, the Carr Design Group architect who designed the workspace, was still surprised at the disparity between storage requirements at the law firm in comparison with his other corporate clients.
“When we were looking at Deacons, it comes out at about 10 linear metres each [employee] of storage, whereas a major consultancy firm was only one to two each. I was really surprised to be honest at how significantly different that is,” Simpson said.
“Conversely when we were working with a management consulting firm recently I was amazed that some of them were saying ‘I don’t need any storage’, which is really interesting, they really just do everything electronically now,” he said.
The issue of paper storage is made particularly visible in the firm’s new premises, which feature glass walls, maximising sunlight but leaving files with nowhere to hide. National facilities manager Lindy Mace has been charged with the ongoing task of rationalising the firm’s paper usage, and overseeing archiving and storage procedures. Simpson believes a change in culture rather than design smarts is the answer to the paper problem,
“There’s one floor at Deacons in particular where even when I was last there they still had a lot of paper to sort through … So I don’t think it’s necessarily about designing things that hide paper, because people will just have more paper,” Simpson said.
“You have to think that if someone knows that they’ve only got a limited amount of space then they have to think about what they do with it. I know Deacons takes environmental issues very seriously, and that’s all tied in with that side of it as well. It’s just a bit of a cultural change I think.”
The paper trail office culture is gradually changing at the firm. The firm has recently introduced a green award for employees who come up with innovative suggestions for environmentally-friendly office practices. Partner and Sydney chairman Nick Abrahams admits that he has been guilty of overzealous printing in the past, but has now made the transition along with the rest of the office to double-sided printing and electronic filing.
Deacons has made every effort to make the switch from paper to electronic storage second nature for staffers, with computers available in every meeting room in the new office.
Abrahams believes that the firm’s investment in sustainability is vital for its future growth, and will become a more pressing concern for the industry in general. He has observed that potential clients, in particular those from government departments and agencies, are placing more of an emphasis on law firms’ environmental credentials at the tender stage.