Old law firm treads lightly on the earth

By Ingrid Tiriana

Operating from an award-winning "green" building is as much about good business as it is about being environmentally friendly for Tauranga firm Sharp Tudhope Lawyers.

It didn't set out to be a leader in sustainable business but there is a personal commitment by Tauranga's oldest law firm to "tread lightly on the earth", says managing director Peter Wilson.

"We feel [Tauranga] is our place and we want to take care of it."

Sharp Tudhope's new building in Devonport Rd incorporates environmentally friendly, energy-efficient features and has prompted the firm to look closely at the way it goes about every aspect of its business. Long term, all of that is expected to help increase business and reduce operational costs.

The firm, which has clocked up 116 years in business in Tauranga, won the Medium Business - Trailblazer category at this year's Sustainable Business Network Bay of Plenty Awards.

Sharp Tudhope, which has a staff of 50, has been part of the Sustainable Business Network for several years and sees the principles of operating sustainably as the logical way to do business.

Sustainability and all that entails makes economic sense, Mr Wilson says. The new building "looks a million dollars" but was at the same time extremely cost-effective.

The firm is optimistic its ongoing operating costs will decrease as a result of the way the new building is designed and operates. It has also created a great working environment for staff and clients and that, long term, will help the firm continue to attract good quality staff and clientele, says Mr Wilson.

There are plans to open up meeting areas in the building to community groups, staff and friends of the firm to use for functions. That, too, is ultimately about good business.

"We're not tree huggers," says Mr Wilson. "We're business people with a long-term view and strong links with the community."

He says winning the sustainability award is about more than just the building, which was designed by award-winning architecture and interior design firm Jasmax. "It's also about adopting systems that work with the building."

Mr Wilson says the building is designed to minimise waste to landfill and that started with construction through recycling.

It is also designed to maximise not only views but also light and warmth to reduce power use. On its western side the building features a series of columns which absorb warmth they release later in the day as temperatures cool, working as a passive heating system.

Rainwater is recycled, and used in the toilets after being collected in a tank designed to release what's not needed into the stormwater system gradually.

The air conditioning and lights all work on "smart" systems which sense if nobody is there and turn them off, further minimising energy use. The air conditioning uses about 50 per cent fresh air and the rest recycled air, which makes for a healthier environment for staff.

Plenty of greenery adds to the quality of air inside and waste bins have been replaced with recycling receptacles at work stations and other staff areas. Food scraps go to a pig farm and waste paper is shredded and sent to a worm farm.

Bike racks and showers were incorporated into the design to cater for staff and the firm has reduced the amount of paperwork it prints by about 25 per cent by using a printer server that stores data rather than automatically printing it off.

"The key to sustainable buildings is that they need to last and we think this one, both aesthetically and in terms of the materials used, will be around for a long time," Mr Wilson says.

Staff are embracing the initiatives and the firm will be taking things further in an effort to become a truly paperless organisation, by moving to an electronic document storage system, including scanning into the system documents currently stored in a warehouse.

"We know it can be done," says Mr Wilson.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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