The Case for Green: Quarles & Brady Make Bold Moves for Sustainability

By Matt Baker

The Chicago River is home to a new skyscraper, a modern gem of steel and glass at 300 N. LaSalle Street developed by Hines. With unique cutouts offering eight corners per floor and a streamlined exterior, it is a beautiful addition to the historic buildings along the riverfront.

Aesthetics aren’t the only selling point, though; the new building was built to achieve LEED CS Gold status. Sustainable features are incorporated from top to bottom, from the green roof to the river water cooling system.

Occupying three floors is the Chicago regional office of Quarles & Brady, LLP. As Q&B grew in the Chicago market to around 130 employees, it was time to find a larger space. One requirement for their new offices was that it be built and designed sustainably.

One hurdle they found themselves constantly jumping as Q&B developed a green strategy for their new space was the fact that they are, in fact, a law firm. This deceptively trivial detail sets them apart from other offices in the central business district and presented its own unique challenges.

“Law firms are interesting beasts in that we still take up a lot of space,” said Courtney Landon, Partner and Chicago Office Administrator. Walking through Q&B’s 75,000 ft2 of office space, this becomes evident by the number of conference rooms occupying the floor. Depositions, client meetings and other uses necessitate a large area. But with careful planning, Q&B was able to creatively reduce their footprint.

For example, the law library, central to any large firm, was reduced by 35% from their previous space. By digitizing certain titles, getting rid of redundant ones and dispersing others into the firm’s practice groups, the need for costly steel reinforcements to support the load of books in the library was negated, along with the need for precious square footage devoted to a necessary, but seldom-used, corner of the office.

The standard width of a window bay on a Chicago skyscraper is five feet. When 300 N. LaSalle went up, it did so with only four feet, nine inches between mullions. “Attorney offices are always measured two bay or three bay,” said Landon. “Three windows or two windows. Partner versus associate.”The three inch reduction per window bay is slight enough to go unnoticed by the staff, but large enough to cumulatively reduce the firm’s footprint by a significant 2,500 ft2. “The nice thing about this is they don’t know it, because of the floor-to-ceiling windows and because I don’t tell them.”

Another feature of Q&B’s space that is unique for a law firm is entirely standardized furniture throughout the space—including partner offices, which typically have their refurnishing budgeted for. “We would then end up with royal blue carpeting and red walls,” said Landon. “Then what happens is when you move them—because that’s another space issue in law firms, people want to move all the time—that office is useless to the next person.” All of the furniture, supplied by Steelcase, is standardized and the office perks upon making partner go as far as choosing one of two chairs.

The office’s layout puts partners, associates and conference space on the perimeter of the floor, where daylight is at its maximum. Managers and support staff are in the core, but still benefit from daylight thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass partitions between the perimeter offices and interior space. Privacy screens mounted in the ceiling can be lowered during depositions or other delicate client meetings, but still allow some daylight to permeate the interior of the floor. “We may have paid a little bit more for that product than we would have for drywall,” said Landon, “but the savings in other areas more than offset it.” Frosted glass on attorney office doors achieves the same balance between privacy and daylight.

Efficiency of space and design guided even the most mundane of office features. Centralized beverage stations serve all the conference areas, cutting down on waste. Rolling, padded file cabinets double as guest seating in the attorney offices. “Nobody has guests in their offices,” said Landon, “especially the associates.”
Each of the firm’s three floors has six printing stations, instead of the fifty or so there would be if each attorney had his or her own printer, as is the norm. A Multi Function Device (MFD) handles the bulk of the company’s document needs, performing tasks from printing to faxing to scanning. Fewer devices means fewer costs for the firm, but also less toner and energy waste. Every computer connected to the MFDs has double-sided printing set as the baseline. While users can change the setting as client needs dictate, the print setting defaults to double-sided each night.

In most offices, the employee break room is regulated to the deepest, most claustrophobic part of the floorplan. But Q&B placed theirs in the southeast corner, with views of the Loop, Merchandise Mart and three branches of the Chicago River. The planners felt that the daylight and views were a nice perk for the employees and promote a healthy work environment. One wall of the break room rolls up into the ceiling, however, adjoining the space to the firm’s largest conference room. The large conference room seats forty-five by itself, but up to seventy-five with the wall removed, further affording multifunctionality to the space.

Almost everything in the office has a multifunctional use. Tables and chairs fold up and roll so large spaces can be reconfigured as needed. Files hang on the back of office doors. Office desks are assembled in modules that can move and reconfigure to the occupant’s need.

The space is also designed to keep people moving. All of the firm’s employees are wireless, allowing them to use one of several sitting areas tucked into various nooks around the office. Bar height seating in the break room allows diners to stand while they eat. Even some of the conference tables are set extra high with hightop chairs so employees or visitors could stand if they desire during a long meeting without seeming out of place. Even desks raise to standing height.

Perhaps the best example of the firm’s commitment to employee health are the two walking stations. They feature treadmills with a built-in desk and phone; wireless connectivity allows the employee to bring in his or her laptop. The treadmills max out at three miles and hour so the user can break up their day and get some exercise while still being productive and not work up a sweat.

The three floors were outfitted with glueless carpet tiles and composite counter tops. All lighting is controlled by occupancy, daylight and infrared sensors. The ceiling fixtures closest to the building envelope emit less light, compensated by incoming sunlight. This results in a uniform brightness throughout the space and reduced electricity usage.

Q&B eliminated disposable plates, cups and cutlery from their kitchen and hospitality areas. To sustain this effort, they installed 90-second, high-temperature dishwashers. “Not only is it the right thing to do for the environment, it’s also going to save us money in the long run,” said Landon.

Q&B moved into their new offices at the end of March 2009. This coincided nicely with their announcement of a new Clean Energy, Climate Change and Sustainability industry group. Cynthia Faur, Partner and co-chair of the group, acknowledged the initiative’s wordy name. “I like to think of it as clean energy and green business,” Faur said.

The multidisciplinary group includes more than fifty attorneys from several of Q&B’s practices and has already counseled many clients on a variety of renewable energy, carbon regulation, infrastructure and other sustainable issues. Smith Village, a senior living center in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood that the firm represents, was able to generate government incentives due in part to its green roof and other sustainable features.

When the recently merged brewing giant MillerCoors moved their corporate headquarters to 250 S. Wacker, a LEED Gold building, Q&B made the transition easier, ferreting out sustainable funding from the city and state. The firm also worked with O’Hare International Airport on their plans to green various facilities. After a US Airways jet landed in the Hudson River in January 2009, plans for hangar green roofs were scrapped for fear they would attract geese and other birds.

The impetus to green a facility is different for each owner or property manager. Some do it purely for socially conscious reasons, others for financial gain due to utility conservation. Q&B’s Clean Energy, Climate Change and Sustainability industry group aims to find other incentives for their clients, such as TIF funding, local, state and federal grants or tax breaks, zoning variance leniency and other offsets.

“The reality is, we’ve been doing this work for many, many years,” said Faur. “[Quarles & Brady] has a very strong background in the utility sector, so we’ve been working on energy conservation and energy efficiency. We’ve been looking at the regulation of carbon for a number of years.” That may be Q&B’s best offering going forward. As legislation mandates more conservation and sustainability, their clients will need to know not just what they can do, but what they must to do.

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