Sacrifice (blergh!) and change
by Daniel Robinson
Before I get into the nitty gritty, I should take a moment to deflate any presumptions that I am a floss-headed idealist.
I do believe that human-induced climate change is happening and that it is pretty much the most pressing political and environmental problem of our time. Not so long ago I would have thought it barely bore mentioning that I respect science, but there you go. It probably does bear mentioning these days. I also believe though that processing and transporting untold millions of kilograms of paper to law firms, chambers and courts all over the world, printing them, carrying them around the place in giant lever-arch folders on big trolleys and shredding most of it, without a great part of it ever even being perused by human eyes, is a waste by anyone’s standards no matter what shonky beliefs you may have about carbon and all the rest. If this still isn’t ringing any ‘this is important’ bells, perhaps I can just leave it on this note: $2 per page is not an usual photocopying fee.
But I don’t believe that telling people what the problem is and how to change their behaviour to fix it is nearly enough, and I suspect that behavioural psychologists have my back on that point. Sure, there will always be some people willing to do their best and make sacrifices, but once the concept of ‘sacrifice’ pops in there, any chance for mass change is pretty much screwed as far as I can see. How many people used to dutifully collect all of their recyclables back in the day and take it to the assigned recycling collection point, before they brought in kerbside recycling? Even then, I remember my mum conscientiously washing every can and bottle and cutting the seal from the neck of milk bottles (as we were told to do when processing technology was less advanced), but what really got recycling going on a respectable scale in my town was when they made it easier than not recycling, by (a) making the recycling bin twice as big as the regular bin (this is still only done in some local government areas) and (b) putting video cameras in the truck and mailing out warnings and fines to people who still couldn’t be bothered.
And on a more prosaic and personal note, I would much rather work in a way that is actually just as efficient, or more efficient, than the alternative rather than kick myself and my infant legal practice in the shins for the sake of the environment. Unless I had to, which I don’t think I do. Technology is supposed to make things easier, right?
So the point of the exercise is not just to go paperless for the sake of it. The point is that technology is just starting to reach a point where going paperless will not be a sacrifice at all (as has been its crucial limitation up until now) – quite the opposite. It’s pretty new, and lawyers are not renowned early adopters (legends abound of the number of us who have yet to ‘adopt’ email and/or word processing), and it hasn’t reached technological maturity yet. A lot of what we need to do with IT simply cannot be done, some of it can be done but less efficiently than current practice… but there is a certain amount, steadily growing, that we can use, and use with devastating efficiency and effectiveness. I’m going to try to find and utilise practices that fall into that last category. And I’m going to identify what still falls into the first two categories, and think about what can be done to move it into the third, and keep my eyes out for solutions as they arise.
What I’m really saying, in short, is this: full respect to technology geeks, early adopters and conscientious environmentalists. You are my guaranteed fellow travellers, and I salute you. Just know that my true hope is that, eventually, you won’t be my only fellow travellers.