From rising temperatures to rising sea levels and the reduction of valuable natural resources, climate change is one of the most critical challenges our planet is facing this century.
MoFo joined the effort to address climate change as one of the founding members of Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy (LSE), pledging $2 million in pro bono legal services to organizations focused on bringing to scale new approaches to building a more sustainable global economy.
Members of the firm, including San Francisco partner Suz Mac Cormac, attended the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco last year, where the LSE initiative was first formed. Originally consisting of nine major law firms, the initiative has since announced that three additional firms have joined, bringing the total amount of free legal services committed to $19.5 million through 2020.
Stanford Law School and Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy, which are managing and tracking the effort’s impact, have also announced a new website, lawyersforsustainability.com, where clients can go to request pro bono help from LSE firms. The website also references the firm’s work with The Carbon Endowment (TCE), a nonprofit partnership designed to retire coal deposits responsibly while alleviating the disadvantages to communities dependent on the coal mining industry.
As chair of the firm’s Social Enterprise + Impact Investing, Energy, and Clean Technology Groups, Suz has been a powerful force in driving our pledge to sustainability forward. Most recently, her work advising on the structure and launch of TCE earned her a commendation in the Financial Times 2018 Innovative Lawyers Report category, “Enabling Business Growth and Transformation.” It also contributed to the firm’s high overall ranking for “Most Innovative Law Firms 2018: Legal Expertise” — moving up four spots from last year.
In partnership with The Nature Conservancy’s impact investment unit, NatureVest, TCE’s goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissons by acquiring fossil fuel rights from ecologically abundant landscapes, restoring fossil-depleted land and water, and supporting communities adversely affected by the clean energy transition.
Suz, along with of counsel Shannen Naegel and associate Ben Fox, assisted TCE’s founders in securing 501(c)(3) status, applying for and receiving a federal tax exemption, and developing the “hybrid” dual-entity nonprofit/for-profit structure necessary to further its mission.
Working with partners and philanthropic donors, TCE will be able to gain control over coal reserves held by mineral owners, identify divestments from endowments and other asset managers, and secure donations from coal company bankruptcy settlements or private mineral owners. In addition, the new organizational structure will allow TCE to partner with charitable organizations in implementing workforce development programs and seeking new investment opportunities in renewable solar and wind energy projects to create new jobs in affected communities.
Suz and her team also assisted TCE in a deal with Chugach Alaska Corporation regarding the sale of its Bering River coal rights to New Forests, which retired those rights while generating revenue through the California cap-and-trade carbon market. The sale and retirement of this Alaskan coal field will not only secure long-term income for the community and protect an environmentally significant location, it is also projected to prevent over 152 million tons of CO2 emissions and leave 65 tons of coal in the ground.
Suz has extensive experience representing a number of clients, from startup to late-stage companies, in the clean technology, renewable energy, and sustainable space. Other nonprofits she’s advised include The Nature Conservancy, Common Sense Media, the Earth Genome Project, CREO Syndicate, Toniic, Pacific Community Ventures, and Year Up. She was named California Attorney of the Year by California Lawyer in 2012 for driving effective legislative change as co-chair of the Working Group for the Flexible Purpose Corporation, and again in 2016 for her innovative work in impact investing, sustainability, and corporate form.
She is a founding board member of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, as well as a member of the board of directors of Business for Social Responsibility, the Ceres President’s Council, and the board of directors of the Earth Genome Project. In addition, Suz teaches the next generation of corporate counsel about sustainability and social enterprise at Stanford Director’s College and the Northwestern Corporate Counsel Institute, and is an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley School of Law.
Read more about the Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy initiative here.