Often, one justification for “going virtual” is the argument that virtual lawyering is “greener” and more “eco-friendly” than traditional law offices, with their piles of paper stuffed into cardboard-based file folders. I wrote such a post here entitled “Virtual Businesses Are Green Businesses.”
What we often forget, unfortunately, is that digitally oriented, paperless offices are not free from a carbon footprint. In fact, according to an interesting article from ZDNet, “it’s a misguided notion to assume that digital media is categorically greener.” The article goes on to quote Don Carli, Executive Vice President of SustainCommWorld LLC:
“Making a computer typically requires the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals including gold, silver, and palladium as well as extensive use of plastics and hydrocarbon solvents. To function, digital devices require a constant flow of electrons that predominately come from the combustion of coal, and at the end of their all-too-short useful lives electronics have become the single largest stream of toxic waste created by man.”
Much of this toxic waste is dumped in developing countries all over the world.
While moving toward a paperless, digitally focused law office is still a good thing to do for the environment, this article is a sobering reminder that digital, virtual law practices are not synonymous with “eco-friendly” law practices.