Making a Positive Impact Together
April 22, 2022 - MoFo Pro Bono

MoFo Partners with Smart Surfaces Coalition to Cool Cities and Advance Equity

At MoFo, our lawyers have long been committed to pro bono efforts worldwide to combat climate change through the development and implementation of sustainable business practices. To continue these efforts, MoFo is supporting the Smart Surfaces Coalition by researching state and local regulations that will aid the development of policies to support Smart Surfaces in cities across the world. Smart Surfaces—including reflective roofs and pavements, porous pavements, green roofs, rooftop solar panels, and trees—help to lower air and surface temperatures in urban areas and offer other benefits like decreasing energy use and storm water runoff. The initiative is led and supervised by New York partner David Kaufman and Los Angeles partner Elizabeth Sluder, with over 20 MoFo lawyers participating in the research efforts.

Climate change and the perilous effects of global warming are already impacting communities and the long-term health of residents. Perhaps less known is the impact felt among low-income urban areas due to “urban heat islands”: areas that have a high concentration of heat due to a preponderance of dark, impervious surfaces and the lack of greenery, which in turn can cause or exacerbate health issues for residents in these underserved communities. Even more alarming is the fact that Black and brown neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by these extreme temperatures and poor air quality as a result of years of city application of lowest-cost, dark, impervious surfaces and failure to invest in trees and green surfaces in low-income areas.

Smart Surfaces Coalition recognizes this growing disparity and the need for tools to slow climate change. Its mission involves “committing to the rapid, cost-effective global adoption of Smart Surfaces to enable cities to thrive despite climate threats, save cities billions of dollars, create jobs, decrease heat, reduce flood risk, slow global warming, and improve city livability, health, and equity.” To achieve its mission, Smart Surfaces Coalition has partnered with the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, which is coordinating the work of several leading firms, including MoFo, on the project.

MoFo got involved in this research through its membership in the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA). The LFAA was formed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the burgeoning fight against racial injustice in the United States. LFAA facilitates pro bono work to promote racial equity in collaboration with more than 300 law firms.

MoFo’s pro bono team discovered the Smart Surfaces project on LFAA’s Bulletin Board. “We were excited by this opportunity to undertake intersectional work that addresses the combined impacts of climate change and structural racism,” said Jennifer Brown, senior pro bono counsel at MoFo. “Associates around the firm have jumped at this chance to contribute to the movement for environmental justice.” MoFo is the largest participant in the project, with our pro bono footprint spanning from Alaska to Georgia and from Maine to New Mexico as our lawyers research relevant laws and regulations in 23 states. The firm’s Research Department has contributed a comprehensive resources guide to help MoFo lawyers find local laws, regulations, and policies that serve as examples of how to support adoption of smart surfaces.

“It has been heartening to see in many of the cities I have researched the initiatives that they are taking on to build green infrastructure and improve the resilience of cities,” states San Francisco associate Daniel Irvin.

Participating lawyers’ research, once complete, will be used by the Smart Surfaces Coalition to build out a publicly available tool that legislators and advocates can use to model, evaluate, advocate for and implement Smart Surfaces around the country. What can be done to encourage adoption of Smart Surfaces as a strategy for creating healthier, livable, and equitable cities? Part of the answer lies in recognizing the risks of doing nothing. According to a three-part article in Risk & Insurance magazine, climate change imposes costs and risks to cities, including a decline in real estate value and increased cost of capital. Concerned too are credit rating agencies, as they are looking for cities to combat climate change. A failure to act on climate through the adoption of Smart Surfaces risks lowering cities’ credit ratings and increasing cities’ cost of capital. Cities that want to keep their cost of capital low and maintain healthy credit ratings have a strong rationale for investing in Smart Surfaces to mitigate climate risks.

“The work that MoFo is doing in conjunction with us will prove to be an invaluable tool to ensure cities make prudent decisions to adopt Smart Surfaces to cut energy costs, to reduce excess heat citywide—but especially in low-income neighborhoods—and to also strengthen city economies and protect long-term livability, as well as to maintain strong credit ratings and more effectively manage and reduce climate risk,” states Smart Surfaces Coalition Founder & CEO Greg Kats.