Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy 2021 Annual Report

What We Do

Stanford’s Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy Initiative connects the world’s leading legal teams with NGOs and startups working to create environmental change. In 2021, 17 private law firms in the initiative provided over $20 million in pro bono legal services to support sustainability efforts. The groundbreaking work being done by pro bono clients and supported by the law firms is critical to combating climate change and sustaining conservation efforts globally. The projects tackled a wide range of climate and energy issues, including:

  • Designing new efficient heat pumps that help decarbonize heating and cooling;
  • Increasing energy efficiency in computing;
  • Working to replace jet fuel with biogas-derived liquid natural gas;
  • Designing more cost-effective and efficient wind turbine blades;
  • Accelerating the decarbonization of heavy-duty transport through the development of advanced hydrogen storage systems for use aboard trucks, ships, and planes;
  • Converting inactive oil and gas wells into energy storage; and
  • Creating a climate tech marketplace for local impact investing.

Other projects focused on sustainable land use and environmental justice, including setting up conservation easements to protect undeveloped land for habitat and developing closed-loop energy and water systems to support sustainable agriculture and reduce food insecurity in disadvantaged communities.

Pro Bono Project Highlights

Sustainable Tuna

Morrison & Foerster worked with longtime pro bono client The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on the Pacific Island Tuna project, a partnership between TNC and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) that is designed to transform the global canned tuna supply chain.  Morrison & Foerster provided legal advice in connection with the creation of Pacific Island Tuna, a TNC-RMI partnership that will supply sustainable canned tuna to Walmart stores across the United States.

Upcycled CO2

Arnold & Porter provided legal help to SkyBaron, an e-commerce, branding, and informational platform for consumer products made with captured and upcycled CO2 (i.e. CO2 waste/byproduct that has been captured and is put to reuse in other products, such as soap, plastic, and clothing). The platform will be built around a method of certification for these products to educate consumers and allow carbontech businesses to promote and improve their products while also preventing greenwashing.

Affordable Solar

Nixon Peabody attorneys helped New Partners Community Solar and its nonprofit affordable housing partner finance and develop approximately 1.5 megawatts of solar energy on the rooftops of more than 60 garden apartment buildings in the District’s most economically disadvantaged ward – all for the benefit of low- and very low-income DC households under DC’s Solar for All program. Nixon Peabody attorneys also helped NP Solar mitigate the impact of the pandemic on its mission to provide utility savings for low-income families in Washington, DC. The nonprofit’s solar arrays, placed throughout the District, generate energy for local utilities in exchange for bill credits to families in need. When the pandemic shuttered the school where NP Solar’s latest project was located, causing a sharp reduction in the amount of energy produced, NP attorneys helped the nonprofit develop an advanced technology solution with energy storage. Their work kept the power—and thus the utility credits—flowing to low-income District residents.

Carbon Storage

Cooley provides pro bono support to Mars Materials, a social enterprise founded in 2021 working to reverse industrial waste emissions by developing technologies that store CO2 into everyday products.  Mars Materials places captured CO2 into plastics and carbon fibers by converting waste-CO2 into acrylonitrile and drastically improving the resource intensive acrylonitrile production process used to create electronics, clothes, and carpets.  Cooley attorneys provide pro bono corporate governance and contracts support to the company.

Financing Marine Conservation Through Debt Conversion

Through The Nature Conservancy, Ropes & Gray was part of a multi-law firm project assisting the nation of Belize to launch a groundbreaking sovereign debt restructuring that will also generate an estimated US$180M for marine conservation.  The innovative financial transaction will support Belize’s commitment to protect 30% of its ocean, strengthen governance frameworks for domestic and high sea fisheries, and establish a regulatory framework for coastal blue carbon projects.

Solar-Powered Appliances

Orrick helped Amped Innovation close a highly complicated debt financing transaction with the European Development Finance Institutions.  A designer and manufacturer of solar-powered appliances and solar energy generation and management equipment, Amped Innovation creates products that help those living under $4 per day to increase their incomes using affordable productive use power. The company is developing a new generation of highly efficient DC appliances, focusing on televisions, cold-chain, water pumping and diesel generator replacement solutions that are affordable to low-income segments. The $6 million EDFI loan facility will allow Amped Innovation to buy inventory and build and deploy new solar lighting and TV systems.

Raising Capital for Sustainability-Focused Projects

A team from Morrison & Foerster’s London and Berlin offices are helping Biodiversity & Ecosystem Futures Limited, a European social enterprise, to structure a financial instrument that will help sustainability-focused projects raise capital.  In addition to structuring the financial instrument, the team is drafting terms and conditions for the platform on which the instrument will be offered, and advising on the terms of BEF’s blockchain-based, peer-to-peer carbon asset trading platform.

New Uses for Desalination Brine Waste

Michelman & Robinson provided legal support to a startup seeking to make desalination a more sustainable way to provide fresh water to communities.  Olokun Minerals is working to use captured brine waste toward power generation, renewable energy storage, and more environmentally friendly concrete aggregates and road de-icing agents. Its solution diverts harmful saline drainage water away from ocean life and marine ecosystems.

Eden Reforestation Projects

Eden Reforestation Projects, a nonprofit organization based in California, has developed a pioneering way to disrupt the cycle of poverty that contributes to deforestation: pay impacted communities a fair wage for planting and protecting native trees. Planting native crops provides thriving food sources for humans and animals alike, while restoring mangrove forests improves ocean and coral reef health for communities reliant on fishing. Latham has provided pro bono support to Eden on a range of innovative projects, and we’re proud to have helped Eden scale to become one of the largest private reforestation organizations in the world. To date, Eden has implemented over 230 projects at different sites in nine developing countries.

Leveraging Solar Power

Seyfarth Shaw provided contractual advice and assistance for a non-profit that leverages solar power to build their work on health, education and economic development. The organization operates programs in the developing world around entrepreneurship training, education, production and maintenance of solar products.

Sustainable Bio-based Polyurethanes

Michelman & Robinson provided legal support Polaris Renewables, a start-up incorporated to commercialize technology that was developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  This technology can replace toxic and non-biodegradable and non-recyclable petroleum-based polyurethanes with sustainable bio-based polyurethanes.

Types of Legal Support

NGOs and startups can apply for free legal assistance in a variety of areas, including:

  • Structuring: Selecting the right legal entity for your NGO or startup.
  • Commercial Contracts and Funding: Partnership or funding agreements.
  • Staffing: Employment and volunteer agreements.
  • Advocacy: Research on laws in multiple jurisdictions.
  • IP and brand protection: Trademark registration, copyright, patents and licensing.

Looking Ahead

The Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy Initiative plans to grow its outreach efforts to sustainability-focused entrepreneurs and nonprofits, both at Stanford and beyond. We are also conducting long-term research to identify the most critical legal obstacles facing green startups, with an eye towards developing potential solutions.

Who's in the Initiative?

17


Major, private U.S. law firms

$20M


Provided in pro bono legal services in 2021

2


Corporate and non-profit partners

The firms offer pro bono legal assistance to entrepreneurs and non-profits taking on key sustainability challenges.

Law Firms

The firms committed to providing free legal services for on-going and new sustainability matters in the amounts below in 2021, though many exceeded their pledges for a total of over $20 million:

*Lead founder of the LSE Initiative

Corporate and NGO Partners

The private sector and NGOs like Grist are working with law firms to support connections between law firms and pro bono recipients. For example, Microsoft will help to connect grantees from its AI for Earth program – a five-year, $50 million initiative that supports and partners with environmental groups, academic researchers, and start-ups – with the initiative for legal support.  In-house counsel from additional companies, including MetLife, have also volunteered to provide pro bono assistance. 

Companies participating in the Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy are making a commitment to assist the initiative in a number of ways, including by:

  1. Enabling company in-house lawyers to provide pro bono assistance to clients directly, or in coordination with outside LSE-member law firms, on company time;
  2. Encouraging outside law firms and other companies to participate in the LSE initiative; and
  3. Using their community outreach activities to identify potential clients who may qualify for, and benefit from, pro bono services provided through the LSE network.

Client Testimonials

"I want to thank you for such a great program. Our experience with Terry at Arnold & Porter has been extremely positive so far and is a huge help. You should all be proud of the work you're doing. It's definitely having an impact."


James Kahn, Founder & Principal, SkyBaron

"I really wanted to follow up with you and thank you and Stanford's Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy initiative. Last year you connected me to Michelman & Robinson, and they were able to provide key support in setting up and establishing GreenPortfolio. Since then we have grown quite a bit - I now have a Cofounder, several contractors working for us and we participated in the Columbia IBM Launch Accelerator. We were even able to purchase a fancy .com URL!"


Bonnie Gurry, CEO of Green Portfolio

"The Orrick team was critical to not only closing the facility but doing so quickly and elegantly. Thank you to everyone at Orrick for making this happen! We have already drawn the first tranche of our facility, putting it to work on new orders."


Andi Kleissner, Co-CEO of Amped Innovation

"Thank you again for giving us access to the Stanford Lawyers for a Sustainability Economy program. During our technology licensing negotiations with National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Cooley's expertise was truly helpful for us. Also, being a Public Benefit Corporation feels really good for our mission."


Aaron Fitzgerald, CEO of Mars Materials

"Thank you again so much for the connection to Morrison & Foerster, they're great!"


Franz Hochstrasser, CEO and Co-Founder of Raise Green

"The Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy programme has been very helpful in connecting Aditu with much needed legal expertise from Ropes & Gray, and I’m very happy to have been provided with this access so far."


Mayowa Osibodu, Founder and Director of Aditu

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