time for a more sustainable future

How can smart #infopros make more sustainable vendor choices? 

August 9, 2022
Clare Brown

A genuine commitment to sustainability is critical for organisations to remain relevant and competitive in this changing world. Much like digital transformation, driving sustainability requires organisations to transform their business from within. Organisations require individuals to take the lead and as we saw at BIALL 2022, library and information professionals are not only at the forefront of legal tech implementations but are positioning themselves as sustainability experts.

In general, the move to online (for everything!) has generally had a positive impact on the green credentials of legal information services. The pandemic has accelerated the transition into electronic resources and digital libraries as lawyers suddenly had limited access to physical volumes. “The pandemic was the catalyst to finally drive home permanent changes in print collections at firms of all sizes,” this HBR report says.

The bad old days of paper and plastic waste

Books, vast encyclopaedias, monthly updates, quarterly supplements, bound volumes, newspapers, boxes of journals - so much paper! The library and information world was awash with it. We used to be good friends with the post-room team because of the vast amounts of books, journals, catalogues, and looseleaf updates that we use to receive in the post every day.

Then we started to receive CD-Roms and “books on disk” which were the first green shoots of technological development. However, these disks accompanied paper versions of large looseleaf volumes and were generally uploaded onto standalone library PCs. The old disks were then archived or discarded. Despite the rise in law firm recycling initiatives, the amount of plastic and paper waste was astonishing, so something had to change! 

Information people were taking the lead from the start 

It is clear that competition drives innovation and in the late-90s the legal publishing world was on the cusp of a brave new world. In the UK, Lawtel and Practical Law were amongst the first online databases of their kind, and library and information people were keen to introduce end-users to these new services. 

Accompanying consolidation of large legal publishers, electronic publishing of legal information has begun to shift primary methods of publication for legal materials from print to electronic-only publication. These shifts to electronic publication mean that in some states, there is no print publication, either from a government source or a commercial publisher.

Who owns the law, p219 

Initially, it was a challenge to get lawyers to trust these new online services but after a number of years of encouragement and acceptance, these services are now part of a successful major publisher. Everything has changed in that are no print versions of certain titles and instead, they are part of online subscription services. This obviously presents other challenges - not least the question about free access to the law but that is another story.

In his book “Innovation and Entrepreneurship”, Peter Drucker made this observation about industries that rely on knowledge-based innovation. “For a long time, there is awareness of an innovation about to happen…then suddenly there is a near-explosion, followed by a few short years of tremendous excitement, tremendous start-up activity, tremendous publicity…Later comes a ‘shakeout,’ which few survive.”

Predicting the future? Or simply scanning the horizon...

Introducing SaaS solutions like Vable

Drucker could have been talking about the legal tech industry. Over the past few years, we have seen the explosion in legal technology solutions and are fast approaching the inevitable consolidation and shakeout. Regardless of the type of service offered, it is the development of cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) solutions that have made many of these applications possible. 

The SaaS model is among the fastest-growing segments in the IT industry. It is the main way for all types of organisations and businesses to access software applications. Naturally risk adverse, lawyers were somewhat hesitant to make the shift to the cloud, but it is safe to say that they are now largely onboard with it.

The latest annual report of the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) notes a significant shift in the mindset of legal firms. Those who have not yet made the move to the cloud are much more likely to be thinking about when to make the move than considering if to do so. It is an important distinction and evidence that the cloud-first ideology is more firmly established than ever. 

The main reasons for this success include:

  • Flexibility - firms can scale services to fit their needs and as long as they have a stable internet connection, they can access services from anywhere in the world.
  • Efficiency - firms can get up and running quickly, without worrying about underlying infrastructure costs or maintenance.
  • Value - firms can rely on cloud services to use the most innovative technology available.
  • Security - firms can be sure that the most stringent cloud security is in place.
  • Sustainability - firms can choose their cloud services based on how sustainable they are.  Companies such as Amazon Web Services are designed at scale and built for efficient energy. 

For instance, from AWS, “the results of a study by 451 Research show that AWS’s infrastructure is 3.6 times more energy efficient than the median of U.S. enterprise data centres surveyed. AWS data centres are more energy-efficient than enterprise sites due to comprehensive efficiency programs that touch every facet of the facility”.

This article from HBR explains more about what CIOs should know about the cloud in general. 

What should we be asking our vendors

Environment, social and governance (ESG) issues are exerting an increasing influence on the management of law firms - environmental issues are becoming as important as knowing your client, or the importance of data protection. Everything is connected and everyone must work together (both inside and outside the organisation) to ensure waste is minimised, if not eliminated.

How can librarians and information professionals ensure the sustainability of their vendor choices? 

  • Check with your current vendors' sustainability practices.
  • Get in touch and ask them about plans for the future.
  • If they are cloud-based, ask about sustainability best practice
  • Are they willing to meet and discuss ESG commitments with leaders in your organisation?
  • Are they willing to work with library and information membership organisations to make a real change?

 

We have come a long way. Despite the many pandemic challenges, from a sustainability point of view, we had a real opportunity to change some working practices for the better. For instance, we discovered we didn’t need to travel to conferences, we required fewer paper resources, and we didn’t need so much office space!

We are in a position where we must make much better decisions about our vendor choices - if we want to use them and stay in line with our firm’s ESG commitments, we need to know what our vendors are doing in order to look after our environment. Given that vendors are also bound by ESG promises, they are offering sustainable products, services and processes because we are all in this together.

 

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