As businesses, organizations and homeowners become more focused on sustainability, one New Jersey law firm is setting its sights on making the transition smoother for all. Launched by Offit Kurman in East Hanover, the new environmental and sustainable practice group is working to help its clients navigate complex environmental matters, as well as advance innovative solutions that boost their overall resiliency.
The team is headed by Matthew Karmel, a 35-year-old environmental lawyer who has garnered accolades in recent years for his efforts to help spur policy changes in the industry, his work to educate others on emerging issues and the results he has delivered for clients.
The Ocean County native has been recognized for his influence and leadership in relation to the environment and circular economy, including earning a spot on the 2022 NJBIZ Law Power 50 list and a mention on the Waste360’s annual “40 Under 40” ranking.
From Fortune 100 companies to individual homeowners, Karmel has experience practicing on a full range of environmental matters, including counseling and litigation, brownfields redevelopment and site remediation, as well as sustainability, renewable energy and waste management.
Bolstered by a passion for sustainability and the environment, Karmel said he is thrilled to take on the new role.
“It’s not enough today for businesses to simply comply with applicable environmental laws. Businesses are simply more effective and more successful when they incorporate sustainability and climate consciousness into their DNA. I am excited to help our clients advance innovative circular solutions, simply and effectively.”
Karmel, along with attorneys Margaret Carmeli and John Tomlin, are counseling clients who range from publicly held companies to homeowners on a broad range of environmental and sustainability matters, whether involving transactions and commercial arrangements, litigation and alternative dispute resolution, or regulatory compliance and operations.
The practice’s specialties include brownfields redevelopment, renewable energy, sustainable development, waste management and cannabis.
The team also works to support sustainable and climate change initiatives, such as the evolving governmental climate change requirements as well as voluntary sustainability initiatives. In addition, the attorneys advise clients on matters related to sustainability, environmental justice, greenhouse gas emissions limits, environmental advertising and more.
Karmel, who began practicing law in 2014 at Riker Danzig in Morristown, has noted the increasing interest in the concept of sustainability within the legal community over the past few years.
“It reached a tipping point where it became a service that needed to be provided to our clients,” said Karmel, noting that such practices are quite common at larger national firms.
“Sustainability is now sort of beyond green companies and not in that vein anymore. It’s so much broader, bigger and more encompassing,” he said.After eight years with Riker in the firm’s environmental law group, first as an associate and then as counsel, Karmel received an offer from Offit Kurman to serve as principal and chair of its environmental and sustainability practice.
“At other firms you won’t get that opportunity to chart that course and lead until much later in your career, so it is exciting to get to do it now as I continue to build my own personal practice,” said Karmel, who added that the firm “saw clearly that sustainability is the future.”
Companies are now under more pressure to boost their organizations’ resilience while also addressing social issues of importance to customers, investors and other stakeholders. And while some businesses regard sustainability as “an additional compliance issue,” Karmel hopes to help them view it more as an investment. “We’re entering a new era of business growth through sustainable initiatives. A decade ago, people saw it as a fringe concept, but research has shown firms that added sustainable practices wound up outperforming others,” he said.
Another misconception is that “it’s a narrow thing that’s only for a few businesses – the high-polluting ones,” Karmel said.
“That’s not the case. Environmental and sustainability issues sweep across the board. Yes, bigger companies have bigger budgets to spend on these types of things. But it’s still important for small and mid-size businesses to incorporate these considerations into what they’re doing and have the right type of guidance,” he said.
Headquartered in Baltimore, Offit Kurman has expanded over the past two decades along the East Coast and now has 18 offices in eight states and the District of Columbia and over 250 attorneys. It is considered one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the U.S. and represents dynamic clients, including privately held mid-market businesses, entrepreneurs, real estate and related businesses and families of wealth.
Offit Kurman President Timothy Lynch said Karmel “brings a wealth of experience handling matters for organizations and individuals facing challenges in the circular economy” and the firm is thrilled to have him lead the new practice.
“Our clients will be able to reap immediate benefit from our ability to provide counseling and representation in this burgeoning area,” he said.
Here there are several hot issues when it comes to environmental law, such as renewable energy, waste and recycling — areas that Gov. Phil Murphy has set “incredibly ambitious goals” for, Karmel said.
Murphy has set a target of reducing emissions 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050 in New Jersey. Two years ago, he signed an environmental justice law to protect vulnerable communities from pollution and also unveiled an Energy Master Plan to wean the state off fossil fuels.
The governor has also returned New Jersey to the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative, increased the number of wind farms and signed laws to boost the use of electric vehicles and solar energy.
While New Jersey is “moving in the right direction” when it comes to transitioning to more green energy, Karmel said there is much legal work and challenges associated with expanding the use of renewable resources like solar and wind.
On the cusp of the 10th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated coastal areas of New Jersey and caused $30 billion in damages, Karmel believes the historic storm was a turning point in the Garden State.
While Sandy helped spur “significant environmental activity” in terms of projects aimed at boosting resiliency against future severe weather, such as modernizing energy infrastructure, revising stormwater management regulations and amending flood hazard rules, there is still much to be done, Karmel said.
“I do think that was the tipping point for businesses and homeowners to reconsider what they’re doing in terms of sustainability, impacts on the environment and improving resiliency.”