Ater Wynne Receives Sustainable Law Office Leadership Award

In order to recognize innovative and meaningful strategies for integrating sustainability into the legal profession, the Sustainable Future Section created the Sustainable Law Office Leadership Award.  The Section, after reviewing many impressive and competitive applications, is delighted to recognize Ater Wynne LLP as the first recipient of this Award.  Ater Wynne is a forceful example of how attorneys and staff of a law firm can initiate and achieve tangible change in the firm’s culture by making choices and investments that promote sustainability.

Internally, Ater Wynne’s commitment to promote sustainable business practices has changed its office operations and policies.  Those practices include fostering a paperless environment through scanning and digital file sharing, using 100% recycled content paper, selecting green caterers, providing recycling on every floor, and using durable dishware.  When considering the firm’s water usage, Ater Wynne implemented water conservation measures such as low flow, dual flush toilets, motion sensors for sinks (with a cold water default) and filtered tap water instead of bottled water for drinking.  Transportation choices are rewarded with incentives.  No one gets free parking; everyone gets a public transportation subsidy.  Clients are able to ride public transportation for free.  Zipcars are made available for attorneys and staff alike.  Bike commuters have access to secure bike lockers and showers.  Ater Wynne has sought to create a low-carbon energy system in a fossil fuel world by purchasing renewable energy credits to offset 100% of its carbon footprint resulting from electricity use.  Ater Wynne was also one of the first firms to create a practice group specifically for the purpose of advising clients on how to integrate sustainability into their business plans and daily practices. 

Ater Wynne’s commitment goes beyond just policy and corporate responsibility.  The firm’s culture of sustainability influences the personal choices made by staff and attorneys alike.  For example, a large percentage of the firm’s employees use public or alternative transportation.  Each year, the firm takes up Portland’s Commuter Challenge and Bike Commute Challenge.   During the summer of 2008 alone, as part of the Portland Commuter Challenge, the Portland office saved nearly 7000 pounds of CO2 emissions by commuting approximately 8400 miles by alternative forms of sustainable transportation.  In 2010, twenty people in one month logged 5300 miles using different modes of sustainable transportation as part of the Carefree Commuter Challenge.  As part of the firm’s commitment to improving its sustainability policies, the Eco-Team regularly meets to review firm practices and employee suggestions.  Successful suggestions are rewarded with gift cards.  Any interested employee seeking more information on sustainability can attend training through the Oregon chapter of The Natural Step.  In-house lunches frequently feature speakers and presentations on topics related to sustainability. 

The notion of social equity is a serious consideration between the firm and its members; the work environment is intentionally designed to embrace diversity of thought and people, to be supportive of community service, and to treat each other with respect.  In recognition of Ater Wynne’s efforts, the firm has been listed as one of the Best Green Companies to Work for in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine and is the top ranking law firm on the list this year.  On the individual level, the firm provides resources for sustainability projects.  In this regard, for the past two years it has hosted Beaverton High School’s IB Environmental Systems classes for a tour of the firm, discussion of green office practices, and career education.  The firm also sponsored the Sustainable Business Oregon section of the Portland Business Journal, first as a supplement to the weekly paper, later expanding into a stand-alone, on-line publication.

If place is a metaphor for this philosophy, Ater Wynne consciously chose a home office intended to provide greater opportunities to practice sustainability.  Its space, which is constructed of reused, recycled and renewable materials, is located in the Lovejoy Building, which received Gold LEED certification earlier this year.  The new building reduced the firm’s energy consumption by twenty-five percent.  Natural light fills interior conference spaces and an outdoor terrace, creating a community without walls of law books.  Small personal offices are the norm.  A large, central commons hosts the lunchroom and coffee area, where staff and attorneys interact daily.  Situating itself in the Pearl District also allowed Ater Wynne to capitalize on public transportation and urban efficiencies.  While not all law firms have the resources or opportunity to create this type of physical environment, Ater Wynne’s leadership in committing its resources to making form enhance sustainable function provides a model for how law firms can incorporate building efficiencies and sustainable materials into legal work spaces.

Ater Wynne is the first law firm recognized by the Sustainable Future Section for creatively adapting sustainable practices into Oregon’s legal culture.  Its leadership and commitment to sustainability will no doubt demonstrate ways in which other law firms can incorporate sustainability into office culture and practice.