GREEN GUIDE EMEA 2023: Austria
Full-service Austrian law firm Binder Grösswang has a future-oriented approach to sustainability and the provision of green legal services: Its BG Future Lab initiative founded by a multidisciplinary group of partners (Raoul Hoffer, Johannes Barbist, Stephan Heckenthaler, Ingeborg Edel, Angelika Pallwein-Prettner, and Philipp Kapl) is a think tank which seeks to explore prospective sustainability-related issues clients may face in the coming years.
The firm is at the forefront of the rapidly developing hydrogen market: Christine Dietz advised Siemens Energy regarding its acquisition of a shareholding in its subsidiary Siemens Energy Electrolyzer Manufacturing, which will be active in the manufacture of components for electrolysis systems for hydrogen gas production.
Emanuel Welten is a leading lawyer in sustainability-linked financing at the firm. In 2022 he advised Austrian Federal Railways in connection with ESG-linked loan agreements and registered notes with the combined value of €550m.
The team is also involved in public law and regulatory matters in the developing e-mobility market in the country, including for client ChargePoint Holdings. Notably, the firm is supporting the City of Vienna’s digital pilot and research project, a culture token app which incentivizes travelling via foot, public transportation or bike, allowing users to collect tokens in exchange for tickets to cultural events.
Internally, the firm grants employees access to its own e-bikes, encouraging the use of sustainable means of transport. Furthermore, as of 2020, the firm’s electricity supply has been sourced entirely from renewable hydropower and biogas, and all carbon emissions are offset through clean energy investments.
Fellner Wratzfeld & Partners
Leading Austrian business law firm Fellner Wratzfeld & Partners has ESG embedded at its very core. Its dedicated sustainability practice group was formed in 2020 covering all areas of ESG including (but not limited to) policy frameworks, green financing, reporting standards, and renewable energy projects. The team provides specialist advisory services for start-ups and early-stage entrepreneurs with an emphasis on sustainability although its client roster also includes SMEs, large companies, and public authorities.
The firm is involved with a number of clients facilitating the green transition in the transportation industry. In the automotive sector, Markus Kajaba and his team currently represent Micro in connection with the launch of the Micrlino across Europe, the electric, micro-car which uses 65% less energy than conventional electric cars. Michael Hecht and Josef Peer assisted ÖBB Infrastruktur AG with the expansion of the railway line in Unterinntal which will reduce dependency on cars.
The sustainability committee is a cross-departmental team which establishes concrete goals to guide everyday operations along a green trajectory. In support of the expansion of PV projects in Austria, the firm provides information on location-specific building requirements and permit obligations through an app. This is shared with the City of Vienna. It also promotes local biodiversity in Austria’s Waldvierel region as a partner of MIELO which frees agricultural land from pesticides, funded through sustainable bee-friendly honey production. In addition, the firm is at the forefront of ESG thought leadership with partners including Florian Kranebitter and Josef Peer regularly participating in industry talks and seminars on the topic.
Herbst Kinsky Rechtsanwälte GmbH
Herbst Kinsky Rechtsanwälte GmbH in Austria stands out for its engagement with innovative, sustainability-oriented start-ups driving the green transition. This includes long-standing client Hydrogrid which has developed software to optimise hydropower plants; Philipp Kinsky recently advised the company regarding new funding.
Florian Steinhart assisted Refurbed with its series B financing of over €45 m; the green tech start-up is nominated for the “Green Heroes” category at Gründer Awards. Another example is the firm’s advice to Treis Group on the sale of Cycleenergy Holding which provides decentralised sustainable energy solutions from biogas.
The team also regularly contributes to thought leadership in the field, with partner Christoph Herbst and attorney Valerie Mayer contributing to an upcoming book due to be published in early 2023 on the topic of social, environmental and innovative procurement by public tender authorities.
Niederhuber & Partner Rechtanwälte GmbH
Environmental law firm Niederhuber & Partner Rechtsanwälte GmbH in Austria specialises in public law with a particular focus on climate law matters.
Florian Stangl in the energy and projects practice is well regarded for his experience in plant licensing and advises Verbund, Austria’s largest electricity supplier, on all legal issues relating to the development of renewable projects, including innovative technologies such as battery storage and hydrogen. Stangl and firm founder Martin Niederhuber are jointly advising The Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Transport and Innovation on various matters pertaining to energy, state aid, constitutional, and civil law. David Suchanek has a strong presence in the wind sector; he is currently acting for WEB Windenergie in the defence of the development of seven wind farm projects.
The firm has also supported various pro bono initiatives such as the “Klimavolksbegehren” (petition for a climate referendum), which calls for more ambitious climate protection and received almost 400,000 signatures. Internally, the firm organised a cycling challenge to incentivise employees to use bikes more frequently, and it also encourages the use of public transport through its financing of the ‘Klimaticket’ for lawyers: an annual ticket for public transport in Austria. Firm staff also receive a regular sustainability newsletter to raise awareness.
Austrian corporate law firm PHH Rechtsanwält:innen provides comprehensive advice to clients on a variety of innovative renewable energy projects including solar, wind and hyropower. The firm’s role as panel law firm for Wien Energie (the largest energy supplier in Austria) and all companies of the group’s parent company, Wiener Stadtwerke, supporting them in various projects to make its portfolio greener, exemplifies its highly regarded expertise in this space.
Head of the energy law practice, Dominik Kurzmann, assists mutliple clients, including PVTechnologies and Dor -Turbinen, with the establishment of energy communities. A pioneer in this space, he lectures on the topic at the University of Vienna.
Stefanie Werinos-Sydow and her team are involved in cutting-edge work involving the development of PV projects in the instance of dual land use, having assisted PVTechnologies with the development of a PV project in an open-cast mining area. Kurzmann and Werinos-Sydow regularly advise Amarenco Solar Austria on various PV projects with a complex real estate aspect, such as the establishment of PV plants to feed produced electricity to the state-owned railway grid. Werinos-Sydow’s knowledge of the sector is further demonstrable in her role as an environmental law lecturer at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna.
The firm is also active in sustainable financing deals, with Wolfram Huber and Lisa Urbas leading the advice to Mayr Melnhof regarding the client’s first sustainable financing to be certified in compliance with the Green Loan Principles, valued at €65m. Urbas, who is co-chair of the Sustainability Board of AIJA (Association Internationale des Jeunes Avocats), is also key to the development of the firm’s sustainability law advisory practice; she works across departments focusing, for instance, on ESG compliance and the development of sustainability strategies.
Internally, the firm has taken considerable steps towards carbon neutrality, using 100% green electricity and offering 100% remote working to further reduce its carbon footprint. It also offers e-scooters as transportation for staff as opposed to company cars.
Schima Mayer Starlinger Rechtsanwälte GmbH
Austrian law firm Schima Mayer Starlinger Rechtsanwälte GmbH offers multidisciplinary sustainability-related advice across its energy, competition and finance practices and has been engaged by governmental departments for its deep knowledge on the green transition.
In 2021 Stephan Schmalzl participated in the publication of the “Guide to Financing for Renewable Energy Communities” (RES communities) commissioned by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology and the Environment Agency Austria. RES communities are key components of the green transition but entail highly complex financing.
The team also advises on various innovative renewables projects including hydrogen, hydropower, solar, and geothermal projects, and is actively facilitating the advancement of e-mobility infrastructure regulation in the country.
Outside of client work, the firm’s lawyers are highly engaged on the ESG thought leadership front with founding partner and head of energy Thomas Starlinger frequently contributing to different publications on green energy. In November 2022 founding partner and head of employment law Birgit Vogt-Majarek spoke at the Climate Economy Law Conference in Vienna on sustainable corporate governance. The firm itself is strategically located in Viertel Zwei, which is car-free and was awarded an ÖGNI platinum certificate as the first sustainable city district in Austria.
Völkl Rechtsanwälte GmbH & Co KG
Leading Austrian boutique firm Völkl Rechtsanwälte GmbH & Co KG is a green finance specialist, mainly working in the green transport, affordable housing, banking, and retail sectors. The firm is known to offer special fee arrangements for clients with a demonstrable ESG commitment. Showing further commitment to a green transition, its office has also switched to being powered by renewable energy.
Since 2016 Philipp Frenzl has assisted independent Austrian mobile network operator Goood Mobile on setting up its innovative system by which telecom customers can donate some of their fees to environmental or social projects. Frenzl advised the company on a pro bono basis and was appointed a member of its supervisory board through the start-up stage. The firm is also supporting Neue Heimat pro bono regarding the provision of electric vehicle charging infrastructure for affordable housing.
Clemens Völkl and Frenzl are advising Wiener Linien on the public and private financing of over € 100m for the extension of public transport in lower Austria to reduce car dependency. Together they are also assisting SV Gartensiedlung Bisamberg with the conservation of the land and lakes it manages and holding those accountable who cause the area damage or fail to pay the contractual preservation costs.