Spotlight on Social Responsibility:
Wendel Rosen focuses on more than just the law
Bay Area attorneys advise some of the world’s most innovative companies, but innovation is often lacking at Bay Area law firms. In a time when environmental calamities and social inequities fill the news, law firms must pay attention to corporate social responsibility. It’s no longer socially acceptable or fiscally prudent to behave as if the financial bottom line is the only one that matters. Clients and employees prefer firms that define performance under the triple bottom line that considers environmental and social impact in addition to financial performance.
The Bay Area has long championed these values. Our county governments have made it easy for businesses to define and communicate their efforts through the Green Business Program. Participating businesses implement a series of mandatory and voluntary measures that reduce the energy, water, waste and pollution associated with their business operations. Implementation is verified by program administrators and certification is awarded to businesses that satisfy the program requirements.
Technology has made the process far easier over the years. Paper checklists have been replaced with an elegant, web-based platform that enables participants to report and document the measures they implement. Advances in lighting, HVAC, plumbing and telecommuting technologies have made it far easier for businesses to track and reduce their resource consumption. Imaging, storage and search technologies make the paperless office far more efficient and cost effective than the mountains of paper files that fill the law office of yesteryear. Being “green” is far easier than it was even ten years ago.
Wendel Rosen became the first law firm in the nation to become a Certified Green Business in 2003. We were launching our industry practice group catering to clients in the emerging green economy, and third-party certification provided us a way to demonstrate that we shared our clients’ values for sustainability.
We created a committee comprised of attorneys and staff throughout our various practice groups and administrative departments. Their mission was to figure out how we could reduce our environmental impact. Our efforts required many changes to established practices. Cognizant of people’s inherent resistance to change, everyone attended in-house trainings where we explained what we were doing and quantified how those changes would save the firm money and positively impact the environment.
Success of the Bay Area Green Business Program inspired others to create programs that added social responsibility to the certification framework. Best known among these is the international “B Corp” certification that considers environmental performance, as well as how a business treats its employees and supports its local community. Eager to support this growing movement, Wendel Rosen became a certified B Corporation in 2010.
Wendel Rosen has been recertified several times as a Green Business and B Corp. But as the years rolled on, the firm realized that success requires frequent reengagement with our attorneys and staff. So in October 2018, we went back to our roots by re-establishing a new Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Committee whose mission reflected our broader values of environmental sustainability, community engagement and social equity. The CSR Committee led our most recent Green Business recertification efforts, and they began exploring ways for our people to expand the ways in which we give back to the community and others less fortunate than us.
One of our earliest community support programs is Rebuilding Together Oakland (RTO), which focuses on restoring housing in the city we call home. Our people serve on the board of directors, and every year since 2005, a sizable team of attorneys and staff have worked multiple weekends in April to assist one or more low-income residents (usually seniors) to restore their homes through painting, yard clean-up and home repairs.
Our CSR Committee sought out additional ways we could engage our people to volunteer and raise money to help the community. In the past six months, our attorneys and staff have volunteered more than 400 hours on firm-sponsored projects, with approximately 130 of those hours occurring during the work day, with staff “on the clock.” We fed veterans, low-income, and homeless through Oakland’s Operation Dignity, the Emeryville Citizens Assistance Program (ECAP), and the City of Oakland’s Thanksgiving Dinner program, and we are participating in the Alameda County Bar Association’s (ACBA) Food from the Bar food drive. We collected toys and money for the 2018 Central American Refugee Committee (CRECE) holiday toy drive. We purchased supplies and are in the process of assembling hygiene kits for veterans and homeless through Operation Dignity and Lava Mae. We have organized frequent internal bake sales to raise funds for wildfire survivors, women’s shelters and other causes.
As an established firm that has served the East Bay for more than a century, these efforts were made easier by a culture of service that has long permeated Wendel Rosen because of the example our predecessors established. At last count, the firm and our people are actively involved in more than a hundred charitable organizations. But he Green Business Program, B Corp, and modern technology now make it relatively easy for any firm to positively contribute to the world around us. In our experience, this not only saves money but it helps establish a culture that attracts and retains talent.
The legal profession demands much from us. Our experience and lives become richer and more meaningful when our efforts make a positive difference for the environment and those around us. Becoming a Certified Green Business and adopting a broader program of corporate social responsibility is good for our business, our souls, and the world as a whole.
Information about the Certified Green Business program and how to become a Certified Green Business is available at: https://greenbusinessca.org.