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‘Eco Pledge’: Green effort or shades of red?

By Dean Kinley
Staff Writer

An effort to seek public comment on a proposal to encourage law firms to become more environmentally friendly sparked a heated debate — including allusions to dead squirrels and Mao Zedong’s “Little Red Book” — before surviving a 4-3 committee vote last month.

John Peterson
Peterson

Following a presentation on the major elements of the so-called “Lawyers Eco Pledge,” board member John Peterson of Fresno opened fire: “This is the most massive intrusion into the lives of lawyers and law firms — the most massive I’ve ever seen.”

Peterson said he knows the “proposal was not intended to be political,” but likened it to Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book,” noting that people were beaten or even killed for not complying with the advice in Mao’s quotations. He cited the comprehensive requirements of the Eco Pledge, ranging from environmentally green guidelines to “best practices” business certification, and said passage eventually will lead to a situation where if lawyers don’t sign the pledge, they won’t be hired.

The Eco Pledge calls for firms to adopt a law office sustainability policy and educate their members and staff about its detailed elements on, among other things, how to reduce toxic chemicals and paper, water and energy use; eliminate disposables; reuse equipment and supplies; purchase sustainable products; use sustainable service providers; and recycle. (For the comprehensive pledge, go to calbar.ca.gov, select Public Comment in the right-hand menu, then select from 2008 the Sustainable Practice Initiative.)

Following adoption of the policy, the Eco Pledge signers then will be expected to assign a person within the firm to implement it; take as many good faith steps and actions in the Law Office Sustainability Guidelines as possible; commit to educate all members of the firm about the policy; encourage the law firm premises owner or landlord to implement sustainable practices; and commit to review the policy and its implementation at the beginning of each year.

Peterson continued his argument with references to claims of the oceans cooling rather than warming over the past five years and said a lot of today’s environmental “data is behind the times.” He conjectured that last year’s bar President Shelly Sloan would liken the Eco Pledge effort to “knitting a sweater for a dead squirrel.”

Current President Jeff Bleich responded that the green effort for the bar is “not about making judgments about science.” As stewards of the bar, Bleich said, it is the board’s responsibility to make sure that the legal profession is not putting a burden on the larger community with excess waste, refuse and energy use.

Public member George Davis of Culver City noted the current green movement in society, notably in California, and asked: “Why are we doing this? Can’t the law firms do this themselves?” In reference to Peterson’s argument, Davis added: “I don’t get the Mao point . . . but I do think (the Eco Pledge) can be construed, or misconstrued, politically.”

Richard Frankel of San Ramon countered that he likens the Eco Pledge to the Diversity Pledge the bar adopted several years ago. Law firms “could have done that on their own,” Frankel said, but it turned out that many didn’t move on the issue until the State Bar became the motivator.

It is all well and good for the State Bar to provide members and law firms with environmentally friendly resources and guidelines, said Paul Kramer of Sacramento, and “their personal values will drive them. But if I see this becoming mandatory, then I will oppose it.”

Several members tried to bring the discussion back to the fact that they were not voting to approve the Eco Pledge effort, but were passing judgment on whether to solicit opinion on the proposal. “It will be very interesting to see how our membership reacts to this,” said Howard Miller of Los Angeles, “and that’s the purpose of public comment.”

The 45-day comment period runs through Aug. 25.

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