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February 23, 2008

VBW Day a guest post by Michael, aka terrible person

 

“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!

Thanks.
Betsy

“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!
 



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16 comments
thinker
thinker

wel i agree dat plastic is dangerous for our eco system...but we shud take soem serious steps towards handling it intelligently n sensibly...

Freak Magnet
Freak Magnet

I just wanted to congratulate you Beth on making a difference in the world! Hopefully more people will take up the challenge! Keep up the great work!

little e
little e

Hey there, I just dropped in from 'blogs of note', so perhaps you've discovered this already, but you should check out No Impact Man. He's at http://noimpactman.typepad.com/Very inspiring...Good luck with it,Cheers,e.

CindyW
CindyW

When I did consulting work in a large networking company in the south bay, I too noticed how many bottled water gets consumed every day. We are talking about more than 25,000 employees on that campus alone. 2 bottles a day per person. That's over 1 million bottles a month!!! And if my 4 months of observations could serve as valid data points, 95% of the bottles get tossed into trash, though every employee has two bins - trash and recycling. Apparently they tried to switch off the bottled water habit (to reduce cost), there was a employee revolt - "right to drink bottled tap water". So now 1 million bottles are tossed in trash every month just on that campus. It takes political will to do the right thing.

Jane
Jane

Congratulations on persuading your firm to take such a positive step. I'm in a UK law firm and we occasionally need to instruct overseas firms so, if I need a firm in California, I'd certainly prefer an aware firm over the competition.

Julia
Julia

Congratulations, and good work to Betsy and Aline for moving forward with the idea! I, too, work at a college (in the UK, so it's more like a late-high-school), and, like the biscuit queen, the students here are completely unaware of their rubbish. I'm trying to start up a student group to get them a-changin' as well!What about looking into options for going paperless in your office? It does require investment of time, money and training, but if the office could reduce its paper use by even a small percentage, and perhaps switch to recycled paper for the rest, well, that's something!

Tanya
Tanya

Hurrah! Yippee! Congratulations on achieving a major victory! I love the term 'eau de phthalates' :) Tee hee hee.As you requested other environmental ideas for your firm, here are some suggestions:* Have Beth come and give a presentation at your firm * Form a 'Green Team' to generate 'green' initiatives - We have one at the Fortune 500 company where I work - see my comment on your previous post... (don't know how to make a fancy link back)* Host a 'Bring your own mug to work day' * If you have a dishwasher at your firm take on the responsibility of loading it and unloading it every day to encourage people to bring their own dishes (have people write their name on the bottom of their dishes and then unload clean dishes into an empty cupboard. Then everyone can come and get their clean stuff when it's convenient for them.)* Post signs reminding people to turn off conference room lights when not in use* Post signs on how to print double-sided by all printers* Post pictures in your cubicle of rivers with trash, Beth's pics of trash in Hawaii, bottles of plastic water bottles, turtles strangled by plastic etc. and don't say anything about them unless people ask...And lastly set a good example! And again congratulations!

Green Bean
Green Bean

Awewsome! What wonderful news. I'll have to suggest that to my husband for his work. Great firm, btw, I enjoyed my time there several years ago. ;-)Aline and Besty, you guys rock.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Major kudos to you and your firm Michael! I'm impressed that the office managers decided to take this big step - and hopefully they'll realize how it positively impacts the companies bottom line. ...I love that their providing employees with reusable bottles too! If they are looking for other ideas, they should check out:http://www.responsiblepurchasing.org/This is the "Responsible Purchasing Network" at the Center for a New American Dream. This member-based institutional procurement program provides resources to institutions of all sizes. Your firm may not want to spend money on a membership - but RPN does provide lots of info. for free (including their guides to cleaners and water). The main thing they do is put together "Purchasing Guides" that help companies not only buy better products, but information on things like best practices, and how to write policies and specifications for what you need. What immediately comes to mind for your company is their guides to things like computers and office electronics. They give lots of great information on how to use your equipment more efficiently and decrease energy usage as a result - again all ideas that will positively impact the company's bottom line.

just ducky
just ducky

Congratulations! To show my appreciation I've created this:AwesomeLeaderIntelligentNeatEnvironmentally-mindedBodaciousEco-friendlyTop-notchSmartYipee!OK, so it might be a little juvenile of me...but I really appreciate their efforts!

Tracey
Tracey

You ROCK!I serve "crystal water" in my natural health clinic. It's charcoal filtered Toronto tap water in an elegant $5 glass jug from Honest Ed's with a 6 sided quartz crystal at the bottom. I make a point of getting my clients off eaux de phthalates ASAP. For a toxin-free FREE alternative, look no further than a glass juice bottle with metal cap. I loathe Coca Cola, so I tend to take them out of people's recycle bins rather than buy the juice!Anyway, I really appreciate this blog for connecting me with folks like you who care as much about the Plastic Plague as I do.Rock on!

themamavist
themamavist

Three cheers! Hooray! Having worked in big corporate law firms before, I can definitely imagine the scenario and how hard it is to change even if there are eco-conscious individuals within the group. I think the attorneys are more focused on billing hours than ever wanting to leave their offices; the convenience of bottled water is the appeal of it. If they understand the bigger picture as outlined by your office manager, they will likely come around. And now there is some new firm logo schwag, something they love!

Burbanmom
Burbanmom

Three cheers for Aline and Betsy! Hip-hip Hooray! Hip-hip Hooray! Hip-hip Hooray!Next thing you know, they'll be installing composting toilets in the executive washrooms!Baby steps, my friend. Baby steps.

Anonymous
Anonymous

well done! this is a wonderful success story from so many angles! what a positive impact you are both having on our world- just think of the ripples of awareness this will create in all the firm's employees, families, business contacts.

The Biscuit Queen
The Biscuit Queen

Excellent work! Your firm is very good for taking this chance and going green-I don't think they will regret it. I am trying the same thing with our college campus. I am an older student and many of the kids are complete garbage hounds who have no idea how much plastic they throw away daily. I will keep hope that if lawyers can change, so can college students!Oh, and you did name the law firm right after you said you would not, which I don't think will hurt anything, but it was funny. Beth must be very proud of you, taking up the cause like this.

CRUNCHY GREENOLA
CRUNCHY GREENOLA

Hi Michael,Congratulations! Businesses create so much waste, but it's hard as an employee to make a change and get everyone else excited about being more "green". Well done.

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