The greening of Wayne Law School takes part in Climate Challenge

By John Minnis

Legal News

A legal education is not worth the paper it's printed on, at least not from an environmental point of view.

With that in mind, Wayne State University Law School students, faculty and staff have launched a new environmental initiative that has changed day-to-day operations at the law school. Because of their efforts, Wayne Law has officially enrolled in the American Bar Association-U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Law Office Climate Challenge in the paper management and Energy Star programs.

The Climate Challenge, according to the ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources and the EPA, is designed to "take specific steps to conserve energy and resources, as well as reduce emissions of greenhouse gases - which cause global climate change - and other pollutants."

"This project was initiated by our students, who found a practical and effective way to make the law school greener while saving money and valuable resources," said Noah Hall, Wayne Law associate professor and environmental law expert. "I thank and commend students Elizabeth Kruman, Nathan Dupes and others for taking the lead on this initiative."

To qualify for enrollment in the paper management program, Wayne Law increased recycling efforts, began purchasing paper stock with recycled content and switched to doubled-sided printing and copying. To qualify for enrollment in the Energy Star program, Wayne Law adopted an energy management plan and set a goal to reduce electricity use by at least 10 percent.

Some 200 law firms and organizations have qualified as ABA-EPA Law Office Climate Challenge partners or leaders thus far.

"Wayne Law's role as a Climate Challenge partner demonstrates how easy it is to make small, cost-effective changes that significantly reduce our impact on the environment, Kruman said. "Our participation in the Climate Challenge helps establish Wayne Law as an environmental leader among law schools."

Efforts are under way to create a student committee that will focus further on the law school's commitment to going green, Kruman said.

Also last year Wayne Law launched its Environmental Law Clinic to teach students the skills and strategies needed to affect environmental policy in state and federal government. The clinic -- supervised by Nick Schroeck, Wayne Law adjunct professor and executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center -- complements the law school's environmental law curriculum and provides students with opportunities to represent citizens and community groups interested in protecting area air, water and land.

Wayne Law offers a comprehensive and innovative curriculum in environmental law, taught by leading academics and top-notch practicing attorneys, Hall said.

"Like most schools," he said, "we regularly offer the core courses in environmental law - Environmental Law, Water Law, Natural Resources Law, Land Use and Administrative Law. Beginning next year, we will be offering Energy Law, taught by a new full-time faculty member that is coming to Wayne Law from a senior position in government working on climate change and energy policy."

The law school also offers numerous advanced courses that address cutting-edge issues in the field. "I recently taught a special course on international climate change law, in which the students negotiated and developed a model treaty to address climate change, Hall said.

Detroit and Wayne Law also have the advantage of being right on the border with Canada. The Detroit-Windsor border crossing is the single most significant trade route in North America, Hall said.

"This gives us tremendous opportunities in international and trans-boundary environmental law," he said.

One example from Wayne Law's curriculum is a recent special course on U.S.-Canadian environmental law co-taught by Hall and professor Marcia Valiante of the University of Windsor Faculty of Law. The course had equal numbers of Wayne Law and Windsor Law students and met on both campuses in alternating weeks. Students had the opportunity to learn first-hand about international and comparative environmental law as applied to current regional issues.

The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center is a new organization, independent from Wayne Law, but founded by Wayne Law faculty, students and recent alumni to protect the world's greatest freshwater resource and the communities that depend upon it. It was founded on the idea that law students can and must play a significant role in shaping the future of environmental law, Hall said.

"Wayne Law students are among the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center's most valuable resources," he said.

Wayne Law has also hosted numerous symposia, conferences and speakers focused on environmental law. Last year, the Wayne Law Review hosted the Boundary Waters Treaty Centennial Symposium to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the first environmental law treaty in North America. This year, Wayne Law hosted the International Climate Law and Policy Symposium with Miller Canfield, a leading regional law firm.

"These events, and many others, connect our students with leading scholars and practitioners and advance our understanding of current environmental challenges," Hall said.

Wayne Law students have also been regular competitors in the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition and active in the National Association of Environmental Law Societies and numerous pro bono matters.

"We are fortunate to have the expertise of our faculty and commitment of our students as we move forward in making the Law School a greener place," said Wayne Law Dean Robert M. Ackerman. "Enrollment in the Climate Challenge is another example of how Wayne Law excels in the area of environmental law. I thank Professor Hall, Ms. Kruman, Mr. Dupes and others for their efforts and look forward to additional green initiatives at Wayne Law."

A law office - or school - that simply adopts best practices for office paper management or that meets the minimum requirements for participation in at least one of the EPA programs qualifies for recognition as a Law Office Climate Challenge Partner. A law office that achieves a higher level of participation in at least one of the EPA programs qualifies as a Law Office Climate Challenge Leader. Qualifying law offices will be recognized, and, for those that participate in EPA programs, the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions avoided by their actions will be posted on the ABA's Law Office Climate Challenge Web site.

For the Energy Star program, the EPA does recognize that most law offices are tenants, so the extents to which they can implement and benefit from energy-saving steps depend on their lease. Even so, a tenant law office with limited control over its electricity payments and facilities can take steps, such as turning off lights and equipment when not needed and upgrading to more energy-efficient computer equipment.

Even more important, an energy management plan creates a basis to work with the landlord to improve energy efficiency and pass the savings to the law office. Also energy efficiency goals may point towards the need for different office space.

For more information about the Climate Challenge, visit

Published: Wed, May 12, 2010