Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to use "Green Committees" to kick-start CSR activities.

Introducing green CSR initiatives has paid financial dividends and has often helped bridge the generation gap at many professional firms. As more firms start to incorporate environmentally friendly practices in the workplace, many have shown noticeable results in terms of reduced expenses and overhead, and younger employees have often been the primary drivers of those greening strategies.

Take Campbell, California-based Mohler, Nixon & Williams. Bill Kelleher, the firm's CEO, was asked repeatedly by entry-level staff members as well as new recruits, about the firm's green initiatives. Though the firm was successful at implementing some eco-friendly strategies, he admitted that they could be doing more. Then the firm hired Vicky Gardner, a young tax accountant, who asked about policies regarding recycling and paper use. "Vicky challenged some of the things we were doing," Kelleher said. "Our entry-level people were asking some really good questions."

In this regard, Steven Ladd, chief executive of Copanion Inc., a tax automation company in Andover, Mass., provides the following statistics:

* The IRS reported that 66 million individual tax returns were filed on paper in 2007, equivalent to 400,000 trees' worth of paper (

* The total energy used to produce one ream of paper is equivalent to two gallons of fuel (

* Using an energy-sipping scanner instead of a wasteful photocopier over the course of tax season could save as much as 280 pounds in greenhouse gases (

* A single new toner cartridge consumes approximately three quarts of oil, and the plastics in it take at least 1,000 years to decompose (

As a result of its increased awareness, Mohler, Nixon & Williams created a "Mean Green Accounting Machine," a green committee made up of employees from all levels in the firm. It applied for certification as a Bay Area Green Business, handed out recyclable tote bags, distributed a monthly newsletter with eco-friendly tips, added more glassware to the kitchen in lieu of paper cups, installed four energy-efficient dishwashers, and hosted e-waste days so staff could get rid of electronic junk.

DiCicco, Gulman & Co. LLP in Woburn, Mass, also formed a green committee to capture and help implement employee ideas, according to Kathy Charles, the firm's scheduling manager and chair of the green committee. The majority of the group's members are under 35. "People coming to look for employment here weren't just asking, 'Is this a good place to work?'" she said. "They wanted to know what we did for the community. How were we trying to fit in better with the environment? These initiatives have been a big selling point with a lot of candidates." One of the first projects the team tackled was finding a more environmentally friendly coffee vendor service. All conference rooms have reminders to turn off lights when not in use and motion detector lights have been installed in common areas that don't have constant traffic.

At other companies, committees have started greening initiatives via simple things such as adjusting printer settings to double-sided, turning off computers at the end of the day, or pulling up blinds when entering meeting rooms instead of switching on lights. Many are also working to create a more paperless environment. For example, Lawhorn & Associates, an 18-person firm in Knoxville, Tenn., has decreased its paper use by 75% through the use of a document management system. In 2001, the firm was spending $12,000 a year on paper. Today, that's down to $3,000. The firm’s Green Action Team has also helped oversee purchasing energy-efficient appliances for a new break room, and acquiring more energy-efficient computers to replace older models.

Big Four accounting firm Deloitte & Touche lists its green programs under the broad category of Corporate Social Responsibility. In early 2008, a green tool kit was put together that included a series of projects that managing partners were charged with implementing across their respective offices. The kits focused on accessing and lowering energy, paper and daily product consumption. This program is monitored through a "Greening the Dot" Web site, which charts the number of tool kit projects that have been completed, thus driving competition between different office locations.

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