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Green Practice: From small seeds, big things grow

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Cite as: (2008) 82(7) LIJ, p. 90

Organisational change is best achieved when it has everyone’s support, but it is often individuals at lower levels who are the ones to start the change cycle.

Individuals passionate about the environment can make a difference in their workplace, but it is always important to know where to begin.

First, and most importantly, start small. A common mistake is to try to fix everything at once, leading to a loss of focus and burnout.

It is better to pick one issue and look for a specific, achievable and measurable target as a first step to reducing your firm’s eco-footprint. For example, you could aim to make double-sided printing a default setting, or set a “lights off” policy after a certain time of day.

Studies have shown that the most effective way to influence people to change their behaviour is to start with a small request and follow it up with a larger one.

In a study “Fostering sustainable behaviour” by McKenzie-Mohr and Smith, published in 1999, surveyed residents were asked if they would place enormous, ugly billboards on their front lawns with the words “drive carefully” on them.

Almost all residents refused. But when a second group was asked the same question in a different manner, 76 per cent of them agreed. Why? Because the request was broken into two stages: the residents were first asked to place a small sign in each of their windows that said “be a safe driver”, after which they were asked to put up the larger billboard.

The first small change had the important effect of altering the way the individuals perceived themselves, which opened them to further, more significant changes.

Once you have identified the area you want to target, the next step is to do your research.

Collect data about consumption and calculate the costs (financial and otherwise) involved in the existing unsustainable practice. You will need to consult with individuals within your firm to gather this information.

Research the available alternatives and identify their benefits (financial and otherwise).

A good place to start is the ABC’s “Green your work” site,1 which has a facts and figures section as well as a green office guide, or the “Eco-guide for law firms”2 produced by Lawyers for Forests.

Alternatively, approach environmental organisations such as Environment Victoria and the Environment Protection Agency, or check out their websites.3

Finally, take time to develop a thorough proposal. How you choose to present your proposal is critical to its success.

Importantly, your motivations (e.g. your health, the wellbeing of future generations) are likely to be different to those of the organisation, and your proposal will not be persuasive unless you present it in a way that is meaningful and relevant to the decision-makers.

Key organisational drivers often include reputation, value creation, development of leadership, risk management and increased efficiency.

Aim to identify the key drivers for your firm and then frame your proposal accordingly. If you can demonstrate the value that a change will bring, you give the decision-makers a realistic opportunity to give their support.

The process can be slow and laborious, even for small behavioural changes.

Forming a group of like-minded people will help maintain momentum, prevent burnout, increase your capacity to solve problems and enable cross-promotion through different networks.

Achieving behavioural change is also about timing.

Fortunately for us, in the current climate [pun intended] sustainable change is likely to be better received than ever before, making now an exciting time for those passionate individuals.

MELANIE SZYDZIK is an LIV Young Lawyers’ Section (YLS) member. This column is coordinated by the YLS. For more information on the YLS, see

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