When Josh Kaplowitz arrived at Drinker, Biddle & Reath L.L.P. in September 2007, the new lawyer was 28, "passionate" about environmental stewardship, and appalled by his decidedly nongreen workplace.

"No one knew what to do with recyclables," he recalled. "People were printing up obscene amounts of paper. I noticed an inexcusable amount of waste going on."

Within three months, he had the blessing of Drinker administrators to form a green task force.

Today at the firm of 500 employees, cornstarch-based biodegradable forks and knives have replaced plasticware, printing with reckless abandon is a no-no, and bottled water is gone.

Don't laugh. Your office might be next if today's launch of the Greater Philadelphia Green Business Program catches on.

The program aims to get companies throughout the region to make a public promise to reduce negative impacts on the environment.

What's the upside for businesses to make such a commitment, especially in a severe recession? Going greener will save them money in the long run, said Patrick Starr, senior vice president at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, primary organizer of the program.

He said it also could help firms recruit employees - when hiring resumes, that is - because job applicants indeed have been asking about potential employers' environmental policies.

"There's been a great sea change in interest in these sorts of things," Starr said.

So, a year ago, he formed a committee of a dozen members of the business community. And he put some interns to work scouring the Internet for what the business world was doing elsewhere to promote sustainability.

They compiled ideas from San Francisco, Kansas City and even from local green enthusiast Kaplowitz, who specializes in commercial litigation and environmental law at Drinker Biddle. About a year ago, Starr, along with a group of Philadelphia-area nonprofits, compiled the Green Office Pledge, a checklist of recommended eco-friendly steps for businesses.

The Green Business Commitment is far more exacting - and public.

Companies must follow a number of steps within six months of signing the commitment. First on the list: Designate a green office advocate or committee to see that environmental promises are fulfilled. Another to-do item: Assess the company's baseline carbon footprint.

Additional mandatory measures differ depending on whether a business is the owner or a tenant of a building. That's a nod to the recognition that tenants have less flexibility in making structural changes to their work sites than owners do.

The Green Business Program will officially debut at a news conference scheduled for 10:30 this morning in the lobby of Rohm & Haas Co. corporate headquarters, Sixth and Market Streets, in Center City.

The chemical company is among 32 early recruits, or charter members, of the program. Others include Liberty Property Trust, the Vanguard Group, Waste Management, Drinker Biddle, PhillyCarShare, AKF Engineers L.L.P., and Cigna.

Enrollment for charter members will remain open for 60 days, Starr said. The perks for such membership aren't vast - just free publicity on the program's Web site, PhillyGreenBiz.com, which was due to go live today and will outline mandatory steps for participants.

Depending on the number of green practices they adopt, businesses could qualify for basic, silver, gold or platinum status. With companies required to renew their commitment every 12 months through submission of a self-certification report, enforcement is essentially on the honor system.

Because participating companies must post, in the workplace, a list of the green actions they have agreed to implement, Starr is counting on workers' applying compliance pressure.

"The theory is if [companies] are slipping, the employees will be the first ones to jump on them," Starr said.

He contends that this recession is a prime time for companies to be investing in recycling bins and in lighting triggered by motion detectors.

"In hard times, there's even a stronger argument for doing many of these things," Starr said, "because they actually do reduce costs."

Just the switch from bottled water to pitchers of filtered water, Kaplowitz said, is saving Drinker Biddle more than $10,000 a year.

Rohm & Haas had already implemented a number of green practices when Starr brought up the idea of the Green Business Program.

Becoming a charter member seemed a natural, said Catherine Hunt, director of corporate sustainability - even with the company's preparing for its merger with Dow Chemical Co.

After all, she said, chemical companies are "where you get cornstarch forks."

Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or dmastrull@phillynews.com.