“I saved Latin. What did you ever do?” — Rushmore
So (I find myself beginning almost anything I write these days with the word “so”. I may have picked it up from my high school Russian teacher, my favorite teacher ever, who was German. Or it may be a translation of “Hwaet”, the Old English word that begins the poem “Beowulf”, which can be and has been translated a hundred different ways, but basically means, “Attention please, everybody! I’m telling a story here!”)
So, those of you who have been reading FPF for a couple of months might remember the post I wrote during Beth’s absence on a retreat (and for the constantly multiplying new readers, here it is) in which I lamented the amount of plastic waste at the law firm where I work as an assistant librarian, especially the number of Firm-provided bottles of water consumed, despite the availability of delicious filtered, cooled tap water ready to be dispensed into a reusable container such as the Klean Kanteen that I use.
“You lifted a bus once!
“Yeah… It was really more of a…a push, really, than a lift.
“That still takes INCREDIBLE super-human strength.
“Well, actually, the driver kinda had his foot on the accelerator… JUST in the beginning; just to get it going. Then it actually was me. But he kinda…” — Mystery Men
For months, well since Beth had raised my consciousness, I had discussed with Jack, our facilities manager, how great it would be to eliminate bottled water entirely, maybe to give out Firm-logo reusable metal bottles to staff as an Appreciation Day gift, or something. But alas, it seemed the Powers That Be, specifically, Aline, the office manager, and Betsy, the managing partner of our office, felt we needed to keep the bottled water.
Now, Aline is neat: she’s traveled everywhere, she paints, and she hired me largely because I quoted Gilbert and Sullivan at my job interview. And Betsy is an important member of the San Francisco legal and business communities, but she’ll arrange an office party at a moment’s notice if you tell her it’s Constitution Day. And they both said really nice things to me after I organized the entertainment at the Holiday Party.
Still, they have a law firm to run, and attorneys, staff, and especially clients to keep happy, all of whom had become used to and expected bottled water. So after I had suggested Jack’s and my plan to them once or twice, I realized it was better not to bother them, and I figured that the best I could hope for was to get people at least to recycle the bottles that they inevitably used.
But these days, more and more law firms are trying to improve their reputations for environmental consciousness. It was announced a few weeks ago in the Chairman’s annual message that we too would be getting on the bandwagon and making a strong commitment to greenness. And Betsy has long specialized in advising companies on how to comply with environmental and water laws. She has a big map of California water resources on her wall and, I’m sure, is familiar with the adage that in California, whiskey is for drinking, and water’s for fighting over.
So a few days ago, as I noted in a comment on FPF, Aline saw me filling up my water bottle at the cooler, and asked me what brand it was. Suspecting something might be afoot, I emailed her a link to Klean Kanteen’s Website, along with Beth’s post about the product from back in the early days of this blog. And I waited and hoped ….
And then, yesterday, February 22, let’s call it VBW (for Victory over Bottled Water) Day, I happened to be talking to my co-worker, Judy (who makes vegetarian cooking suggestions and brings toys for our kitties!) around lunchtime, and she mentioned something about an email from Betsy about water bottles, so I rushed back to my own computer and found the following all-user email in my box:
Hello San Francisco Office,
Just to keep you up to date on our office news, I wanted to let you know that we are in the process of changing how we drink water in this office. We have ordered filtering machines that go under all our copy room and kitchen sinks, and those should be installed in less than a month. We will provide everyone with containers for drinking San Francisco’s finest (and those containers will have our logo), and we will ultimately eliminate bottled water. It has been a nice ride with the bottled water, but we are filling up our landfills with these plastic bottles. As you may know, the City of SF no longer provides its employees and guests with bottled water, and we are going to follow their lead.
I know many of you will miss your bottles, while many of you want to go further and outlaw other forms of refreshment. We will, however, still provide all the other drinks we have been providing, including sodas and coffee and tea. There will still be plenty of water here, but it will not come in plastic bottles.
This is one small step, but just imagine the plastic bottles this office alone has created in a day, week, month, or year!
“God willing, we will prevail, in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity and essence of our natural… fluids.”–Dr. Strangelove
I immediately forwarded it to Beth! We’ve won! And it was really she who got all this started! I emailed back to Betsy, swearing my eternal gratitude and fealty. I stopped by Aline’s office and applauded.
It should be noted that Betsy’s decision, and the timing of it, is particularly courageous because our office has for the past few years been named one of the “Best Places to Work in San Francisco”, which is based in part on employee opinion surveys, and she had that same morning sent out an email exhorting more staff to fill out the form online. She was taking a risk of negatively influencing the feelings towards their employer of the partisans of bottled water, and their reporting thereof to the awarders of the workplace honors. But if we don’t get the prize this year, I think that by next year, everyone in the office will have realized how much better they feel drinking fresh water instead of eau de phthalate, and improving the planet instead of cluttering it with waste and pollution, and will thank Betsy in their minds and in their survey responses.
Anyway, I’m not going to give out the Firm name or the email addresses of the people responsible, but if you loyal FPFers (we need a term for you. Fake Plastic Fishermen? Fake Plastic Anglers?) want to express your appreciation to Aline and Betsy (and I hope you will), just post your thoughts here and I’ll make sure they see them. Aline and Betsy are interested in other pro-environmental measures (I’ve been talking up degradable tableware) and your ideas and encouragement would be appreciated. And, of course, your business. So, if you are a multimillion-dollar company, and you need good legal represention, I hope that its environmental efforts will lead you to choose our firm!