Plant-for-the-Planet is a youth-led NGO committed to leading the global forest restoration movement with the goal of restoring one trillion trees by 2030, which could materially support the world’s climate goals. Transparency and trust are key to Plant-for-the-Planet’s success: transparency in reporting on the number of trees planted, how funds are used, and how the organization is structured around the world; and trust among its relationships with individual funders, corporate donors, other nonprofits it partners with, and the wider NGO community. As attention turns to the potential for restoration as a climate crisis intervention—this is the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration—Plant-for-the-Planet is at a singular moment in its development.
With its global secretariat in Germany, Plant-for-the-Planet started in 2007 when nine-year-old Felix Finkbeiner announced to his classmates his goal for children to plant a million trees in every country. By 2011, Felix’s goal had increased to humanity planting a trillion trees across the globe, and this time he was addressing the United Nations. Today, Felix is Plant-for-the-Planet’s chairperson, and its main restoration project is on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. This project began in 2015, and already more than six million trees have been planted. The initiative has also trained and empowered more than 90,000 young Climate Justice Ambassadors in 75 countries.
We have provided pro bono legal services to Plant-for-the-Planet since 2012. Our recent efforts have focused on helping the NGO shift at a structural level from its family-oriented start-up origin, which was unable to keep pace with Plant-for-the-Planet’s rapid growth, to a state-of-the-art organization. Another priority has been navigating the processes to found legal entities in new countries to make it as easy as possible for donors to support the global restoration movement. Other activities include tax planning, legal health checks, and support with trademark and payment disputes.
Our pro bono work for Plant-for-the-Planet has spanned eight countries across the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe. Patrick Beggan, international manager at Plant-for-the-Planet, explained that our combination of expertise, knowledge, connections and relationships across multiple jurisdictions is essential: “Alongside their professionalism, which constantly astonishes us, White & Case’s lawyers have the patience and understanding to work with the dynamism and passion of Plant-for-the-Planet,” says Beggan. “They are helping us move from doing our best, to being the best at what we do.”
In 2021, our Mexico City, Paris and Hamburg offices have worked with Plant-for-the-Planet on a range of matters, while teams in Finland, Indonesia and South Korea are working on setting up legal entities in their respective countries.
Updating the Mexican legal structure
Since we helped set up the structure of Plant-for-the-Planet’s Mexican chapter in 2012, the entity has expanded to include a restoration ecology research operation, in conjunction with ETH Zurich and Imperial College London, and an ambitious forest restoration effort that employs more than 120 seasonal and permanent employees. The research effort seeks to improve the design and implementation of future forest landscape projects by Plant-for-the-Planet and others. Further, to support its commitment to plant 100 million trees in Mexico by 2030, Plant-for-the-Planet needs to comply with specific local land rights regulations. To help navigate this important next stage of growth, White & Case counsel Eric Quiles undertook a review and update of the governing documents of the Plant-for-the-Planet Mexican legal organization. It was important that the relationship between the entities in Mexico and Germany was tightened to ensure increased transparency and trust around the organization’s work in Mexico. Our work will help Plant-for-the-Planet establish approval processes, improve policies and create committee oversight.
Setting up a legal entity in France
Local legal entities are important to build trust and confidence with Plant-for-the-Planet’s donors in the country. At the start of 2021, Alexandre Ippolito, a partner in our Paris office, and Paris associate Tazio Jaegle advised Plant-for-the-Planet on its options when setting up a nonprofit entity in France, along with the tax and reputational implications of each. We are now in the process of establishing an endowment fund in France. In addition, Alexandre, who has a personal commitment to forest preservation, has introduced Plant-for-the-Planet to some of the leading forest preservation organizations in France.
Trademark dispute in Germany
Also in 2021, we assisted Plant-for-the-Planet to successfully resolve a trademark conflict related to its “Tree-Shirt” logo. Hamburg partner Markus Mette, counsel Corinne Hauss-Löhde and law clerk Wiebke Femerling helped the NGO protect its trademark, ensuring its clear message could continue to be delivered uncompromised.
Beyond supporting Plant-for-the-Planet’s organizational goals, enabling it to have first-rate governance and compliance structures in place as it continues its journey is an important way to support the broader global restoration movement.
Photo by Santiago Roa/Jaguar Siembra, Natur & Kultur Verein
A volunteer planting a tree as part of the Trillion Tree Campaign in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia