ALISS Overview

The American Legal Industry Sustainability Standards (ALISS) Self-Assessment Tool is designed to help law firms measure the success of their environmental sustainability programs and discover opportunities to improve their sustainability programs. The Law Firm Sustainability Network (LSFN) formed a Task Force to assess the most appropriate means to meet this objective. The Task Force concluded that a Legal Industry Standard with a weighted point rating system was required to enable firms to earn points for their activities. This was deemed the most effective way for firms to assess their performance against a transparent benchmark. Those participating law firms seeking to achieve a particular ranking, must reach a specified number of points based upon their sustainability activities. The task force also concluded that ALISS should provide guidance for those looking for ways to improve their programs by providing options for improving sustainability in connection with each topic covered. The following were deemed to be necessary characteristics of ALISS:

·        Voluntary 'Honor' Based ( i.e. no third party verification required)

·        Transparent and Easily Understandable

·        Simple to Complete

·        Quantifiable

·        Unbiased (results not affected by firm size or other characteristics)

·        Reportable

·        Relevant (it measures aspects of sustainability meaningful to law firms)

·        Granular (able to identify specific areas of strength and achievement)

·        Flexible & Dynamic (with the ability to evolve over time).

Point System & Awards Schedule

A firm’s score or rating will be expressed as a percentage of the maximum number of points obtainable. This will allow the number of questions in the ALISS survey, as well as their point weighting, to change over time without requiring the points needed to achieve a particular award level to change. A percentage-based system allows a certain amount of flexibility regarding which questions a firm is required to answer. The number of questions, the questions themselves, and the point weightings for questions are expected to evolve to reflect best practices within the legal industry as those change over time. To create a point system that sufficiently covers a wide variety of sustainable initiatives, the ALISS rating system awards points for various activities covering five broad categories:

·        Internal Stakeholder Engagement

·        Measuring & Reporting

·        External Sustainability Activities

·        Internal Sustainability Activities

Each of these categories is further broken down into related sustainability topics, e.g., Energy & Utilities, each of which consist of sections that contain a set of related questions or actions. The hierarchical structure of the survey resembles the following. For example,

ALISS Survey Structure

Each question/action has been allotted a maximum number of points, depending on the complexity of implementing that particular activity and its value or impact on environmental concerns. There are no “required actions” in the point system. The task force realizes there may be additional relevant activities that are not captured in the activity options currently listed on the self-assessment tool. As a result, the system also allows for firms to add in as line items other activities they are engaging in that are relevant to the goal at issue. For most questions, firms may include up to ten additional activities.

The point system thus allows for flexibility in measuring a law firm’s sustainability activities while ensuring that firms will only achieve awards through the implementation of significant sustainability programs.

Recognizing that a key aim of the ALISS self-assessment tool is to encourage firms to take action to reduce their impact on the environment, the points are weighted heavily towards Internal Sustainability Activities.

The point system is sufficiently rigorous that a firm will have to be engaged in many desired activities to reach the highest awards. As such, the individual awards are also weighted so that a firm can only achieve the highest levels of recognition if its sustainability activities also encompass Internal Stakeholder Engagement, Measuring & Reporting, External Sustainability Activities, in addition to Internal Sustainability Activities.

Points & Awards Schedule

The following table indicates the percentage rating required to achieve the different award levels. It also defines the minimum percentage that must be acquired within each of the four umbrella categories as outlined in the previous section. For instance, to achieve a Silver award a firm must obtain at least 40% of the maximum potential number of points available to it, and at least 15% of that total amount must come from the ISA category.


Award Status

Award Percentage

Min. Points 

Min. Points

Min. Points

Min. Points 









5% (ISE + MR)





10% (ISE+MR+ESA)







Below 30%





*Firms can participate and choose not to publish their scores if they do not achieve an Award ranking. This enables firms to participate privately and identify additional actions to implement to achieve recognition. Law firms that have earned less than 25% of their maximum potential points will automatically achieve the ALISS Reporter status. 

Sustainability Categories

The following tables define the sustainability topics in each of the four categories and the purpose of their inclusion.





Motivate firms to develop a formal policy, and make it available internally to employees on intranet and externally via web site


Recognize firms whose leadership actively supports the firm’s “green” initiatives and establish formal structures to develop sustainability initiatives and drive change

Employee Engagement

Reward firms for engaging employees through such things as communications, competitions, surveys, recycling campaigns etc.






Motivate firms to verify programs and any measured waste reductions/savings.

Measuring Consumption, Recycling & Waste Reduction

Encourage firms to measure so they can quantitatively assess actual waste reduction/savings.

Calculating CO2 Emissions

Reward firms for measuring their carbon footprint so they can identify their major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and reduce them.


Encourage firms to set internal targets for items such as recycling, energy savings and water conservation.

Formal Reporting

Recognize firms that report to external bodies.

Awards & Recognitions

Rewards firms for achieving other third party recognitions or certifications for sustainability efforts, such as the ABA Climate Challenge.





Firm Economics

Encourage firms to use sustainability to build relationships.

PR & Communications

Reward firms for proactively promoting sustainability, including web site and marketing materials.

Community Activity

Recognize firms that demonstrate a commitment to supporting environmental community activities.







Motivate firms to reduce unnecessary travel.


Encourage firms to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency.


Encourage firms to reduce water consumption and increase efficiency.

Cleaning Supplies

Encourage firms to choose products with reduced environmental impact.

Green Building Design

Reward firms for incorporating sustainability into office retrofits and new construction, and encouraging their landlords to do the same.

Sustainable Operations

Encourage a firm to operate as a "greener" law firm by reducing paper consumption, increasing their recycling, etc.

Supply Chain

Encourage firm to seek vendors who demonstrate sustainability or encourage existing vendors to become more sustainable.

Meeting & Events

Reward firms for choosing locations and services that demonstrate sustainability and reduce consumption and waste.





Innovation & Challenge

Reward firms that go “above and beyond” normal expectations by implementing innovative ideas and initiatives in the pursuit of being a more sustainable law firm.


Innovation & Challenge

The Innovation and Challenge category enables firms to earn extra points for up to two sustainable activities that, in the firm’s opinion, are innovative and worthy of recognition overcoming a significant challenge. To earn the additional points for this category, the firm must provide a written description of the program or activity. The description provided will be public and available for all participants to view. Restrictions for the Innovation section: 1) The activity/program must not duplicate a similar one already included in the ALISS survey, unless through innovation you have overcome a significant challenge. 2) The activity/program should not be ‘incidental’, i.e. the firm should have proactively implemented the activity for the purpose of being a more sustainable firm. For a multi-office firm, the maximum potential points will be calculated from a blend of the maximum potential points obtainable by each of its individual offices using the same personnel-weighted points formula applied to its actual points. To obtain a firm’s overall percentage rating simply apply the formula:

ALISS Rating % = (Actual Points / Maximum Potential Points) x 100

Firm-Level vs. Office-Level Questionsic

Some of the survey questions are more appropriately answered at the individual office level and then aggregated up to the firm level. The survey has been partitioned so that all office-level questions fall under the Internal Sustainability Activities category while the remaining categories are more appropriately answered at the firm level. As such, ALISS requires answers on the Internal Sustainability Activities to be collated for each domestic office. It is not required that every domestic office partakes in the survey, some may choose not to, but the point system is weighted by number of personnel (see below); so it is recommended that as many offices as possible partake in the survey.

 Locations with Multiple Offices/Buildings

It is important to note that for the purposes of ALISS, the term “office” refers to a law firm’s operations within an individual building, and the terms “office” and “building” may be used interchangeably. If a firm’s office location has multiple buildings the questions should be completed for each of those buildings. However, to simplify the process a firm may choose to have one or more of its smaller buildings in a particular location “aggregated” into another larger building for the purpose of completing the survey. In such a case no questions need to be answered for the smaller office. All that is required is that the number of personnel in the smaller office should be accounted for in the personnel headcount for the larger office into which it is being aggregated. This is important to ensure the smaller office is actually accounted for with respect to Personnel Weighted Points (see hereafter). For the purpose of aggregating offices, an office can be an aggregation of two or more buildings in the same metropolitan area as long as the sustainability program applies equally in those locations.”

Personnel Weighted Points

The ALISS Task Force recognized that law firms have multiple offices and that not all offices may be at the same stage in implementing their environmental sustainability initiatives. It was also recognized that some law firms may have recently moved to new office developments are LEED-certified with their own tenant sustainability requirements. ALISS attempts to avoid situations in which a law firm could achieve an award based on a single office, especially offices in LEED designated buildings.

To this end, all “Internal Sustainability Activities” questions will be weighted by the percentage of personnel included in the offices that answer positively for that specific question. For example, if a participating firm has eight offices and the six smallest offices (amounting to only 50% of total domestic personnel) choose to partake in the survey; and all six answer yes for a question, the allocated point for that particular question will ultimately be 50% of its full value i.e. 1 point question will be valued at 0.5 of a point, not 1 point. If out of the six offices, only four answer yes to the same question, and combined they amount to 25% of total domestic personnel, then the point earned will ultimately be valued at 0.25.

The concept of personnel weighted points allows ALISS to cover multiple changes to the structure of a law firm i.e. merger, strategic acquisition, growth/decline etc.

This solution also ensures that a firm can only achieve the highest awards if its sustainability programs and initiatives are implemented firm-wide across the majority of its offices, as opposed to only its flagship ‘sustainable’ head office, which happens to be located in a LEED Platinum certified building.

Size of Law Firm

The Task Force also focused on the fact that law firms can range in size from many thousands of personnel with multiple offices, to single-office firms with relatively few personnel. It was understood that larger law firms have greater resources to allocate to their sustainability programs; while it is potentially easier for a smaller firms, with fewer offices, to implement sustainability initiatives. As such, the ALISS Task Force believes that the resources to ease of implementation factors result in a relatively level playing field for both large and small law firms.

Timeframe for Rating

An ALISS Rating is in effect for two years from the date of submission. A law firm can submit for an updated rating anytime and the two-year timeframe becomes active from the firm’s latest submission. It is possible for the law firm to update information in its profile on an ongoing basis; however, the data which is shared publicly will only be updated when the law firm submits for a new Rating. Once a law firm has earned a rating, it is expected that the firm will make a good faith effort to maintain the status that made it eligible for the rating for the duration of the ALISS Rating. While year-to-year fluctuations in some performance areas are to be expected, a firm would not qualify for a credit if it ended the practice or policy upon earning the credit and resumed the practice or policy when it was time to re-submit information.

Automated Online ALISS Reporting System

ALISS is administered using an automated online management system. Each firm will designate a Firm Administrator person responsible for overseeing the data collection and report submission for that firm.

Key features of the system are:

·        A Firm Administrator is designated for each firm with a login to the online ALISS system.

·        The Firm Administrator will be able to designate an Office Administrator person for each office that is to help complete the report.

·        Office Administrator will each receive their own individual logins into the online system.

·        The Firm Administrator will complete the firm-level questions.

·        A Firm Administrator will have the ability to select specific questions which they themselves will complete on behalf of a selected set of offices.

·        A Firm Administrator will be able to distribute online ‘office level’ questionnaires to selected offices in order for the individual Office Administrator to complete questions that the Firm Administrator has opted not to complete.

·        A Firm Administrator will be able to select certain questions/sections and designate and enable another firm member to complete those questions on behalf of all the firm’s offices.

·        The system will automatically collect, calculate and record any information submitted by the firm’s Office Administrator. That information would be accessible by the firm’s Firm Administrator.

·        The Firm Administrator will have the ability to view the reports from all offices, and then decide which offices to include or exclude from the final report.

·        The system will support features such as alerts, notifications and automated emails to aid the Firm Administrator in completing his or her report in a timely and organized manner.

Submission Process

Once a law firm has completed documenting all of the required data in the ALISS Reporting Tool it may submit this data for an ALISS Rating. It should be noted there are two distinct actions a firm can execute.

·        Submit for a new Rating

·        Publish a Rating

Submit for a new Rating

A firm can submit for a new rating at any time and as often as it likes. This simply involves saving the latest version of the firm’s survey and then submitting the information to the system. The system will calculate the firm’s rating based on the information and make this rating available to the firm. A firm will have to explicitly publish its rating to make it publicly available to others. Thus, if a firm is unhappy with its current rating (published or unpublished), it can endeavor to improve its sustainability program, update its ALISS Survey submissions accordingly, and submit for a new rating. This process can be repeated indefinitely. The firm can choose whether or not to publish the new rating at any time.

 Publish a Rating

To publish an ALISS Rating involves four steps.

Step 1: The firm will submit for a new rating as described previously above.

Step 2: The firm will acknowledge the submission Agreement, which states that all of the information in the ALISS submission is accurate, up-to-date and ready for reporting, to the best of the submitter’s knowledge, information and belief.

Step 3: Law firms that have earned less than 30% of their maximum potential points will automatically achieve the ALISS Reporter rating and all law firms will be asked to confirm that they do indeed wish to make their rating public.

Step 4: After one final confirmation the law firm’s ALISS Rating will be published and become publicly available immediately.

Please note, once information is submitted for an ALISS rating the firm’s ALISS Report will be privately and anonymously available to other participating firms on the Law Firm Sustainability Network’s ALISS web-platform. The Administrator of the LFSN shall have access to non-anonymized versions of the Report as needed. No data, including the final rating, will be made available by the LFSN to the general public – it will be up to the participating law firm to choose what portions of its own information it publicizes.