How Law Firms and Legal Organizations Can Lead on Climate Change – by Roger Juan Maldonado

Roger Juan Maldonado

President’s Column, January 2019

For this column, I am grateful for the assistance of the Environmental Law Committee (Amy Turner and Kevin Healy, co-chairs).

Approximately two-thirds of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to heating, cooling and powering the buildings where we live and work. More than 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or its equivalent are emitted each year by commercial and industrial buildings across the City. These emissions and others from buildings in cities around the world make significant contributions to rising global temperatures and the increasingly costly impacts of climate change. Climate change threatens not only our global ecosystem, but also New York City’s coastlines, our fragile infrastructure and the public health and security of all New Yorkers.

Law firms and legal organizations in New York City occupy millions of square feet of commercial space across all five boroughs, and are particularly well-positioned to lower operating costs and do their part in lowering the City’s carbon footprint by making their spaces more energy efficient. Energy efficiency, which includes a range of measures including lighting enhancements, plug load changes and re-design of spaces, can drastically decrease the energy needed to power an office space. This drives down the space’s carbon footprint and translates into significant savings in energy costs. Accounting for more than 10% of New York City’s commercial office space, New York City law firms have the power to drive deep emissions reductions in our physical spaces and catalyze changes that are replicable across the City by other commercial tenants.

That’s why the adjacent Bar Building in which the New York City Bar Association owns office space is participating in the Commercial Tenant Program of the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA). Under the Commercial Tenant Program, NYSERDA will cover the cost of an energy assessment, performed by a licensed and qualified engineer, of commercial leased office space. These energy assessments result in customized recommendations of proven energy conservation measures and a full financial model of recommended upgrades. We have found the process to be seamless. Our building manager has worked directly and successfully with NYSERDA and our facilities staff to conduct the audit and identify meaningful cost-saving opportunities that will have the added benefit of protecting the environment.

Several of New York’s top law firms have worked with NYSERDA to design highly efficient state-of-the-art office spaces. While building out the firm’s new offices at 1221 Avenue of the Americas, the Commercial Tenant Program helped White & Case identify energy conservation measures that are projected to save the firm approximately $390,000 per year and provide a return on investment of 1,141% over its 20-year lease term. Paul Hastings also participated in NYSERDA’s Commercial Tenant Program in the planning and build-out of its new space at 200 Park Avenue. With the recommended energy conservation measures installed, the firm is projected to save approximately $270,000 per year and realize a return on investment of 1,071% over its 16-year lease. Several other firms – including some that are not going through renovations or build-outs, but rather want an accurate picture of their energy usage to make more modest, but still significant, energy-conservation improvements, are participating in the Commercial Tenant Program.

These firms are helping New York City reduce carbon emissions, while also demonstrating that doing so can improve their profitability. Moreover, they are demonstrating leadership in the legal industry and beyond by inspiring other firms and leaseholders of commercial office space to pursue similar energy-efficiency improvements.

The New York City legal community has shown itself time and again to be a leader on important issues affecting the lives and livelihoods of New Yorkers. Law firms have another such opportunity to help New York City avoid the most significant impacts of climate change and to point the way for other commercial tenants to do so as well. By taking this opportunity we, as a legal community, can do the right thing and at the same time improve our bottom line.

For more information about NYSERDA’s Commercial Tenant Program, please contact Amy Turner of the NYC Climate Action Alliance. The NYC Climate Action Alliance is performing law firm outreach for the Commercial Tenant Program and can answer questions and help New York City law firms navigate the Commercial Tenant Program’s onboarding process.

Roger Juan Maldonado is President of the New York City Bar Association