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Successful businesses today seek to create long-term value, reduce risk, and enhance corporate citizenship by integrating sustainability measures into their core operations. Sustainability—the "triple bottom line" of social, environmental, and economic concerns—is how businesses are distinguishing themselves from their competition and strategically positioning themselves for the future. Concerns about climate change impacts and global energy, water, and resource supplies are transforming the legal environments in which businesses operate. There is a growing body of standards, regulations, reporting and disclosure obligations, and corporate shareholder-led initiatives promoting or requiring the adoption of sustainable practices by business and industry.

Helping Our Clients
As an environmental and energy law firm, MGKF is uniquely positioned to work with an array of clients in addressing current and prospective legal mandates and market demands for sustainability. We assist in identifying and managing emerging legal risks, developing policies and programs, evaluating the application of current and prospective regulatory standards, and auditing current practices. We help clients capitalize on new opportunities in green building; renewable energy; energy efficiency; emissions trading; carbon sequestration; waste reduction, recycling, and beneficial reuse; and green marketing and product labeling. We also counsel clients with respect to their corporate governance and litigation issues that can arise in the sustainability context.

Some example focus areas within our Sustainability practice include the following:

Sustainability in the Firm – Leadership Starts at Home
At MGKF, sustainability is a key component of our firm culture and professional practice. As an environmental, energy and land use law practice, we take pride in our commitment to providing the highest quality legal services to clients while also acting as responsible stewards for the environment. The firm’s own sustainable business practices serve as a foundation for assisting clients and engaging the community.  

When we relocated our Bala Cynwyd headquarters office in 2014, we pursued the use of sustainable design and construction practices using the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System as a guide. MGKF's commercial interior buildout project achieved the prestigious LEED Gold® certification under the LEED Green Building Rating System for Interior Design and Construction: Commercial Interiors. MGKF was the first law firm in the Philadelphia region to achieve Gold level certification under LEED for Commercial Interiors for its office space. For more details, see our case study and tour booklet.

 LEED Gold Certification for Commercial Interiors

MGKF was an early leader in sustainability. The firm helped to pilot the American Bar Association's Law Office Climate Challenge Program, joined the Greater Philadelphia Green Business Program as a charter member, and continues to participate as a member of the  Law Firm Sustainability Network and the New Jersey WasteWise Business Network. Joe Manko, one of our founding partners co-chaired Philadelphia’s first Sustainability Advisory Board under Mayor Nutter.  Partner Brenda Gotanda, who is a LEED Accredited Professional, served on the Board of Directors of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (now Green Building United) for many years and on the Host Committee for USGBC’s 12th Annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo . In addition, Gotanda founded the MGKF Sustainability Directors’ Roundtable over a decade ago as the leading forum for sustainability directors and managers in the region to network with peers across sectors and share insights on best practices, new developments, and successful approaches to a range of sustainability challenges. With over 50 organizations participating, its members represented a broad range of businesses including retail, real estate, manufacturing, health care, energy, grocery, academic institutions, waste and recycling, architecture, financial services, transportation and telecommunications. For more than a decade, we sponsored an annual Environmental Community Service Award for local high schools and middle schools.

Our firm implements a formal Sustainability Policy and adopted the model American Bar Association policy to further our commitment. We have used our own experiences in green office practices to counsel clients, communities and organizations who are implementing their own programs to "go green" at their offices and other facilities. Our firm has an in-house Green Team, which monitors compliance with our sustainability policy and provides leadership in meeting our goal of continuous improvement.

Sustainability Practice
Some specific areas of focus within our Sustainability practice include the following:

Renewable/Alternative Energy and Energy Efficiency
As global and national energy policy undergoes a revolutionary transformation, opportunities for energy generation from renewable and alternative sources—including wind, solar, geothermal, and landfill methane—continue to expand. Renewable and alternative energy companies and clients seeking to capitalize on energy efficiencies and incorporate renewables into their energy mix have turned to MGKF to provide sophisticated environmental counsel with respect to their projects. The construction and operation of renewable and alternative energy generation facilities may trigger federal, state, or local permitting; generate renewable energy credits ("RECs") with value; and present new issues in existing regulatory programs. Projects such as ethanol refining, waste coal combustion, or coal-to-liquids production implicate environmental regulatory issues across all media. MGKF assists clients with a wide range of energy projects, including construction of new energy generation facilities, the purchase and/or sale of the energy generated from these facilities, strategic planning with respect to renewable fuel use options, and projects that implement energy efficiency upgrades. Additionally, many renewable/alternative energy projects are eligible for federal or state financial assistance in the form of grants, loans, tax incentives or other types of financing. MGKF helps clients to secure funding from these programs.

Climate Change
MGKF's climate change practice draws upon the practical experience of its attorneys to represent our clients in the full range of climate-related matters from regulatory programs at the federal, state, and local levels to voluntary corporate programs. We have worked with clients on a broad range of matters and have assisted in evaluating strategic opportunities pertaining to current and anticipated greenhouse gas regulation. Our experience includes counseling and representation of clients with regard to greenhouse gas emissions calculations and lifecycle analysis for public utility commission proceedings, renewable energy projects to reduce carbon emissions, corporate climate initiatives, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ("RGGI") in the Northeast, New Jersey's Energy Master Plan, Global Warming Response Act and Protecting Against Climate Threats (PACT) regulatory initiatives, and developing EPA regulations concerning monitoring, reporting, permitting and control of greenhouse gas emission sources. We are also familiar with complex issues related to climate change adaptation initiatives, carbon trading, efforts to achieve net zero or "carbon neutral" climate goals, and climate change risk disclosure.

Corporate Governance, ESG Reporting
Corporations are increasingly facing internal and external requirements or expectations to disclose potential or existing environmental risks and liabilities, including those related to climate change such as greenhouse gas emissions, water resource availability and energy. We stay abreast of the rapidly changing regulatory programs and market-driven sustainability initiatives and provide strategic legal counseling to clients with respect to their environmental, energy, and sustainability concerns. We have assisted clients in establishing environmental risk management programs, developing corporate policies and programs, satisfying SEC disclosure requirements pertaining to environmental liabilities, fulfilling new and anticipated emissions reporting requirements, and performing environmental crisis management.

Green Building
As demand continues to grow for more sustainably designed, constructed and operated buildings, owners and developers often look to distinguish their projects and assets through green building certification programs.   Our firm assists clients in evaluating green building opportunities, managing liability risks, negotiating contracts, and complying with voluntary and mandatory green building standards.  Our firm is a member of the United States Green Building Council (“USGBC”) and we have both legal and technical staff accredited as LEED® Accredited Professionals (LEED APs).  MGKF provides counseling and representation to clients pursuing certification under the LEED® rating systems and under other programs and standards. In addition, we assist clients in obtaining regulatory approvals necessary to incorporate regulated aspects of green building into their projects, such as beneficial reuse approvals and water- related development approvals. We have considerable experience in environmental site development and permitting issues and regularly represent clients in negotiating environmental representations, warranties and indemnities in contracts, purchase agreements and leases.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure
The effective management of stormwater runoff is an aspect of sustainable development and green building that is receiving increased attention from real estate developers, property managers, and building owners, particularly as cities and municipalities adopt stormwater impact fees and new systems of stormwater regulation.  Those that have enacted stormwater impact fee programs, such as Philadelphia, typically require new construction projects to incorporate sustainable stormwater best management practices into their design in order to manage the majority of the property’s stormwater on-site.  Properties developed prior to the implementation of such fee programs are also encouraged to retrofit older infrastructure and implement sustainable stormwater design in order to obtain credits that can be used to reduce the property’s total stormwater impact fee.  MGKF’s lawyers and in-house technical consultants have assisted clients in navigating these new stormwater regulations, developing sustainable stormwater best management practices, and applying for and obtaining stormwater fee credits and grant funding. MGKF has also assisted clients in challenging stormwater impact fees through administrative processes and litigation, where appropriate depending on the facts and circumstances of a particular property and the applicable stormwater regulatory structure.

Green Marketing and Product Labeling
MGKF counsels and provides representation to clients on legal issues related to the marketing and labeling of "green" products and services.  We also help clients limit potential risks while navigating new opportunities in expanding sectors of the "green" marketplace.  We provide counseling and representation on compliance with Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") rules governing "green" marketing and on the FTC Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, also known as the "Green Guides" (and similar state publications).  We also provide counsel and representation on manufacturer’s product take-back programs.

Potential claims may also arise as a result of false or misleading statements made in marketing materials, agreements or other communications regarding the performance or attributes of green buildings. MGKF sponsored a Harvard Law School Environmental Law & Policy Clinic White Paper, The Green Building Revolution: Addressing and Managing Legal Risks and Liabilities, which provides recommendations on how to avoid or mitigate risks of such claims in the green building context.  We have also counseled clients regarding partnering opportunities with green or sustainability focused organizations.

Market-Based Programs
Policymakers are increasingly turning to market-based regulatory programs to address a number of sustainability issues, including, for example, cap-and-trade markets to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissionsenergy portfolio standards and renewable energy credits to promote alternative energy generation capacity, and nutrient trading to control point and nonpoint discharges. While the application of market-based systems to achieve sustainability goals is an emerging area, market-based programs have been used in other environmental regulatory programs for some time, such as the Acid Rain Program and the NOx Budget Program under the Clean Air Act. MGKF professionals have extensive experience in these and other mature market-based regulatory programs and have assisted clients with, among other things, obtaining appropriate permits and allowances, ensuring compliance with necessary monitoring and reporting requirements, and securing emission reduction credits or offsets. MGKF can assist clients in formulating and implementing trading strategies under existing and emerging market-based regulatory programs and can provide counseling on how allowance or offset trading can fit within a comprehensive corporate compliance program.

Waste Reduction, Recycling and Beneficial Reuse
Management of waste is a concern—and an opportunity—for clients. Given the tremendous interest in material reuse and recycling at the state and local level, we are frequently called upon to advise clients whether ancillary materials generated in their processes are subject to waste treatment and disposal legal requirements or whether the materials may be reused or recycled. Likewise, clients purchasing secondary materials from others consult with us to analyze the regulatory status of these materials and how they may be used or reused in other applications. We assist clients in obtaining beneficial reuse approvals and other regulatory permits and approvals that may be needed to reuse certain materials or media. In addition, we counsel clients regarding building deconstruction and electronic waste (or "e-waste") management. MGKF has also advised businesses with respect to "waste-to-energy" projects including the use of solid waste as an energy feedstock, the cracking of waste tires to produce natural gas and oil, and landfill gas-to-energy projects.

In the context of sustainability, litigation risks include, among others: challenges to anticipated federal and state climate change laws and regulations; disputes involving governmental authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions; tort claims seeking monetary and injunctive damages for past emissions of greenhouse gases; certification and compliance of green buildings or products; false or misleading claims in marketing (aka "greenwashing"); and corporate liability disclosure. Our litigation practice deals with a wide range of litigation matters addressing natural resources, contractual disputes, regulatory obligations and class actions.

Photo © scyther5 |

The following are some of the representative matters MGKF has handled in the sustainability field:

    • MGKF has assisted clients with siting, permitting, contracting and regulatory approvals for a wide range of alternative energy generation projects, including solar and wind power, solid fuel gasification, landfill gas-to-energy, waste-to-energy, and waste coal fuel. MGKF has experience with the siting and development of solar photovoltaic projects in a variety of settings, including on rooftops, closed landfills and brownfields. In addition, we have assisted clients with contracts for wind farm development.  We have drafted power purchase agreements both solar and wind power and have prepared related project development contracts.

    • MGKF has counseled and represented energy generation clients on climate and greenhouse gas (“GHG”) related issues at the federal, state and local level, including GHG emissions projections and lifecycle analysis for state public utility commission proceedings, GHG permitting, transactional agreements, GHG emission controls, regulatory and legislative developments, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ("RGGI").
    • MGKF has counseled and represented commercial developers of green building projects on a broad range of issues, including LEED certification, material reuse opportunities, environmental regulatory approvals, and project contracts.

    • MGKF has assisted clients with the development of their green marketing materials and has provided counseling and representing to manufacturers on compliance with Federal Trade Commission rules and the "Green Guides" on environmental marketing claims.

    • The firm has assisted refiners with regulatory and permitting requirements associated with renewable/clean fuels, including permitting an ethanol production plant and compliance with the Renewable Identification Number ("RIN") program.

    • The firm has counseled commercial and industrial clients and lending institutions on the availability of grants and tax incentives for innovative technology, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and assisted clients with the preparation of grant applications.

    • MGKF has assisted a large fuel supplier with respect to regulatory issues associated with renewable fuels.

    • MGKF has assisted clients with gap assessments that compare costs of moving from traditional construction practices to green building construction standards.

    • We have assisted clients in obtaining beneficial use approvals to handle recyclable and reusable materials.

    • MGKF has counseled clients regarding applicable requirements for recycling used electrical components and e-waste, and advised electronics recyclers and processors on facility permitting.

    • We have drafted and negotiated contracts for deployment of electric vehicle charging stations.

    • MGKF has helped clients to evaluate their stormwater infrastructure and develop sustainable stormwater best management practices for their non-residential property and to apply for and obtain credits to reduce their stormwater impact fees.

    • MGKF has represented a large industrial property owner in the negotiation of various agreements related to a $2.7M grant for sustainable stormwater infrastructure obtained from the Philadelphia Water Department's Stormwater Management Incentives Program.

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