The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, based on more than 14,000 studies and approved by 195 countries, is the most comprehensive overview of the science behind climate change to date. It states that humans have heated the planet by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the 19th century. This rise in temperature is the direct result of activities including burning fossil fuels, clearing forests and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Despite these dire findings, we still have a short window to curb global warming before the changes become irreversible. To prevent further disaster, businesses must adopt more sustainable practices and innovative solutions are needed to address the existing damage. One way to accomplish this goal is by embracing the model of a circular economy, where resources are kept in use for as long as possible, then recovered and repurposed to create new products and materials.
The Foundation pairs Lex Mundi attorneys with social entrepreneurs who are working towards innovative solutions to the world’s problems, including climate change. Many, like those profiled below, have already begun revolutionizing techniques in the circular economy space and provide examples of new business practices. By supporting organizations at the forefront of climate solutions, Lex Mundi member firms demonstrate that all attorneys, regardless of whether they work in the environmental or regulatory space, can use their legal expertise to mitigate climate change. Assisting social entrepreneurs for even a few hours can help them to scale, grow and ultimately positively impact more lives worldwide.
Graviky Labs (“Graviky”) was born in a research laboratory at MIT when its founders developed the prototype for their flagship product AIR-INK®. The standard ink-making process today relies on carbon black, a powder that is commercially produced by burning fossil fuels. Understanding the detrimental impact this has on the environment, Graviky’s founders developed a ground-breaking process to harness the carbon emissions already generated by human activities and turn them into the high-grade pigment used in ink.
Their final product, AIR-INK®, both eliminates the need for fossil fuels in ink production and turns air pollution into a usable product. In doing so, they prevent certain carbon emissions from entering our air, water, and lungs. With the AIR-INK® concept and technology in hand, the Graviky team needed legal assistance to become a sustainable, global business.
Womble Bond Dickinson, Lex Mundi’s member firm for USA, North Carolina, connected with Graviky through the Foundation. Their attorneys registered trademarks for the AIR-INK® logo and filed the patent application for Graviky’s technology. This allowed Graviky to partner with organizations like the environmentally-conscience clothing brand, Pangaia.
In 2013, AIR-INK® was an idea in a lab. By spring of 2021, supermodel Naomi Campbell was modeling a Pangaia sweatshirt designed with AIR-INK® in a sustainable fashion spread for Vogue. Pangaia’s new hoodies, T-Shirts and track pants include the description, “The print is created by transforming carbon emissions into AIR-INK®," allowing individuals worldwide to become conscientious consumers.
Approximately 134 million chickens are consumed each day, resulting in millions of tons of feathers generated by the global poultry industry each year. While poultry is a staple of many diets, few people consider what happens to the byproducts of their meals.
Feathers create waste disposal issues and are usually incinerated or turned into low-grade animal feed. Enter London-based startup AEROPOWDER. This innovative company has developed a patent-pending process to create sustainable insulation materials from these feathers. Their first product, pluumo, is a sustainable thermal packaging material designed to replace the expanded polystyrene typically used for food and pharmaceutical deliveries. While polystyrene is derived from petroleum resources and takes hundreds of years to degrade, plummo is created from pre-existing waste and is completely biodegradable. As the number of packages shipped each day increases, plummo can have a tremendous positive impact on the environment. However, like all social enterprises, they needed legal assistance to get started.
AEROPOWDER co-founder Ryan Robinson noted, “While innovation is our specialty, navigating the legal nuances of starting and growing a business is not!” UK attorneys at Lex Mundi member firm Morrison & Foerster LLP (USA, California) volunteered to close AEROPOWDER’s seed investment round. Because of Morrison & Foerster’s involvement, Robinson says his team “can now focus on the critical scaling stage of our company.” In the coming years, AEROPOWDER plans to develop more sustainable feather-based materials for use across industries. Their goal is to enable local production of sustainable materials, anywhere in the world, wherever there are feathers.
Researchers estimate that more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the early 1950s; only nine percent has been recycled. Plastics are built to be long-lasting and durable, meaning some can take up to 500 years to decompose.
To make matters worse, many plastic products we use in our everyday lives, including plastic bags, straws and coffee cups, cannot be recycled through standard processes. While some plastic waste has been incinerated, nearly 80 percent has accumulated in landfills, dumps and the natural environment. Today, landfills are over capacity, and an astounding eight million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year.
In response to the devastating impact of plastic pollution, social entrepreneur Sebastian Sjoux founded Arqlite, a recycling technology company. The Arqlite team developed a proprietary technology that turns unrecyclable mixed plastics into a light, artificial stone aggregate called Arqlite Smart Graveltm ("Smart Gravel"). Smart Gravel is extremely versatile, and one of its primary uses is in the construction industry. By way of example, Smart Gravel is used to create lightweight construction concrete that is three times lighter and provides ten times better insulation than traditional mineral gravel. Not only does Arqlite collect and repurpose unusable plastics that are headed for landfills, but their lighter gravel also does not require mining to produce, is easier to transport than mineral aggregates and can be manufactured locally. This leads to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for concrete production.
Sajoux founded Arqlite in his native country, Argentina. After creating a successful, fully operational business there, he wanted to continue to grow and scale operations abroad. To make this possible, Morrison & Foerster volunteered to assist Arqlite with its patent application in the United States. Today, Arqlite has a factory in California that is ten times larger than its initial pilot program in Argentina. This expansion allows Arqlite to divert thousands of tons of plastic from the environment each year, demonstrating that ingenuity can turn pollution into usable products.
In light of the increased focus on climate change, Lex Mundi, with the help of Houthoff (member firm for the Netherlands), created the Lex Mundi Global Climate Change Guide. This guide allows users to download information concerning relevant policies, measures and legislation related to climate change regimes in more than 30 jurisdictions around the world. Specific questions and topics addressed in the guide include National Policies, GHG Emission Trading Schemes, Renewable Energy Sources, Energy Efficiency Measures, Financial Institutional Measures and Prominent Litigation Cases. The guide’s interactive format allows users to search for and download an individual jurisdiction’s report or compare legislation from multiple jurisdictions in a side-by-side customizable report.