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Great Workplaces: Environmental responsibility helps retain good workers

Implementing initiatives to go green and encourage a more thoughtful approach to the environment serves as an effective tool in building a great workplace. While this is hardly news, employers are finding that there are now tangible outcomes from implementing such programs, beyond the environmental benefits. These include cost savings, increased retention rates for employees and clients, and greater community recognition.

Nixon Peabody has successfully led the way for law firms to integrate environmentalism and sustainability with a series of firsts for green practices in the legal industry. In 2007, Nixon Peabody became the first law firm to appoint a chief sustainability officer-Carolyn Kaplan, a native Rochesterian and an attorney in the firm’s energy and environmental practice in Boston.

Later that year, the firm became the first law firm in the U.S. to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council under the standard for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design in the category of "Commercial Interiors" with certification of our San Francisco office. Our Albany office earned LEED Silver certification in April of this year, and space in the New York City office also received LEED Silver certification in September. We are seeking LEED certification for our new Chicago office.

As a firm, Nixon Peabody also counts among its clients developers of renewable energy and clean energy technology companies.

What does this mean for Nixon Peabody’s employees and clients? The result is a healthy environment benefiting everyone who works in and visits our offices. In our ongoing effort to go green, we have found that our employees-and the clients we serve-appreciate the commitment to environmental best practices and sustainability.

Our organizational values and the cultural fit of a green effort have helped us to recruit and retain employees who share those values, and prospective employees appreciate the dedication and empowerment that Nixon Peabody creates from the green effort. Employees are inspired to adopt cost-effective methods to reduce consumption of energy, materials and other resources. We have a firmwide sustainability committee, and each office has an employee task force dedicated to environmentalism and sustainability, providing a forum for employees to contribute their creative ideas and develop a sense of ownership for the process.

The day-to-day impact of going green is clear. Some of the best practices developed in our LEED-certified offices are being applied to the renovation work that recently has commenced in the Rochester office:

  • Adopting daylight harvesting, with daylight sensors installed in the perimeter offices, allowing the natural illumination of the sun to supplement and reduce existing lighting.
  • Adding water-saving fixtures, such as high-efficiency lavatories and automatic faucets.
  • n Using paperless procedures to the highest extent possible. This has included electronic submittals, construction documents issued on CDs and electronic information requests.
  • Diverting construction debris from waste disposal facilities whenever possible by reusing materials and fixtures, donating office furniture and equipment to local charities, and holding an internal sale at which employees can purchase surplus gear.
  • Including construction materials that are extracted and manufactured regionally, reducing the amount of fuel used in shipping.
  • Upgrading to Energy Star-rated equipment and appliances when replacements are purchased.

Nixon Peabody has identified seven priority areas, such as green construction, waste reduction and paper use reduction. For example, in an effort to reduce paper use and operate more efficiently, we take advantage of an array of new options. Law is a very document-intensive field; to reduce our impact, Nixon Peabody uses paper with at least 30 percent recycled content and has implemented default double-sided printing for all employees. Our offices use energy-efficient equipment, and we help to educate our employees about sustainable practices that they can implement both at work and at home. By taking the lead in green efforts, Nixon Peabody sets the example for other law firms.

How can your organization go green? Develop an internal green team, or create a set of best practices for your own environmental program. There have been recent reports that employers with a more positive outlook on environmental initiatives tend to have greater success recruiting and retaining valued employees. Sharing your commitment to the environment helps to build camaraderie in the workplace and reinforce your core values.

Scott Turner is the Rochester office managing partner at Nixon Peabody LLP and is a member of its energy and environmental practice group. Great Workplaces is a monthly column written by executives from companies honored as best places to work.

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