Shawnte Mitchell has been on a sustainability journey in recent years that she said has prompted her to more closely consider ways to reduce environmental impacts in both her personal and professional spheres of influence.
So the seasoned legal department leader was very interested when she learned of an opportunity to work at Genomatica (Geno), a company which replaces fossil fuel-based materials with plant-based alternatives for the most commonly-used materials and chemicals.
Earlier this month, Geno announced Mitchell had been appointed its first-ever chief legal officer.
“I thought this would be a really good place to be because it's actually doing something real and tangible in the sustainability space,” Mitchell told Legal Dive.
Genie Cesar-Fabian, who most recently served as head of environmental, social and governance (ESG) and sustainability at private equity firm Palladium Equity Partners, expressed similar excitement about her new role as the first general counsel at Ethic.
The tech-driven asset management platform promotes sustainable investing, and Cesar-Fabian said it quickly became clear from speaking with Ethic’s founders and employees that the company was an “extraordinarily authentic, committed, mission-driven organization.”
“It's terrific to be at a firm that is so aligned personally with my values, that is really walking the walk,” she told Legal Dive.
Implementing key transactions
A top priority for both Mitchell and Cesar-Fabian will be building out the legal departments at their growing companies, and they have experience doing so.
Mitchell was previously general counsel at Zogenix and Aptevo Therapeutics, which are both in the biotech industry. Meanwhile, Cesar-Fabian was general counsel and chief compliance officer at Palladium Equity Partners.
The two legal chiefs in the sustainability space will have a variety of other important projects, including those that advance ESG objectives.
For Mitchell, this will include helping ensure the smooth implementation of two significant deals Geno reached with prominent companies in the last year or so.
Last August, Geno announced a partnership with lululemon athletica to bring renewably sourced, bio-based materials into lululemon’s products.
This June, Geno and Unilever announced a $120 million venture to scale and commercialize alternatives to palm oil and fossil fuel-derived cleansing ingredients.
Mitchell said the Unilever and lululemon collaborations are examples of her legal team working with business colleagues to help ensure an efficient go-to-market approach in which Geno is a strong partner.
The legal department also provides guidance so that Geno's intellectual property is used effectively.
"I think our legal team is really important in helping to drive the business in the direction that it wants to go to have the best impact,” she said.
Cesar-Fabian’s portfolio will include coordinating with Ethic’s leadership team to advocate for regulatory policies that support sustainable investment and transparent disclosures.
This is an area where Ethic has already been active, including its submission of a letter in June to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in which indicated support for requiring registrants to provide certain climate-related information in their registration statements and annual reports.
“It’s a very strong first step to introduce the American financial markets to the kinds of disclosure requirements that we see overseas,” Cesar-Fabian said of the SEC’s proposal.
She plans to actively engage with the SEC moving forward and is pleased to be at a company that supports her taking such a proactive approach, which she said is something registered investment advisors are often reluctant to do.
“We are eager to reach out and have these conversations because Ethic was created to solve a problem, which is the lack of access to sustainable investment opportunities,” Cesar-Fabian said. “And we think working collectively in partnership with the regulators, we can help get us where we need to be faster rather than just keeping our head down and not engaging at all.”
Making a broad impact
Cesar-Fabian also said Ethic’s plans to be outspoken can help it have a broader impact, another reason she joined the company.
“I want to be part of cementing Ethic’s voice as a credible, trusted voice in the sustainable investment market,” she said.
Additionally, she hopes to help Ethic, which recently crossed $2 billion in assets under management, continue its progression from being a “very small company with a very strong idea into an enterprise and an institution.”
Mitchell said she too was intrigued by joining a company in the growth stage that is poised for additional expansion.
“Geno is at this really great inflection point now where it's trying to transition and mature from kind of a small startup to a bigger player,” she said. “And I think once companies get to this precipice or threshold, legal affairs plays a really important part in helping to think through and provide strategic value to the organization as it makes choices about partnerships, as it makes choices about corporate development [and] as it makes choices about long-term transactions.”