Why Lawyers Should Care about Sustainable Development

Environmental Forum, Vol. 19, July/August 2002

14 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2008 Last revised: 23 Jul 2015

See all articles by John C. Dernbach

John C. Dernbach

Widener University - Commonwealth Law School

Date Written: 2002


This essay aims to persuade the U.S. environmental law profession that sustainable development is important to them, in their various roles as advocates, counselors, and citizens. Sustainable development is increasingly important to their clients, businesses, causes, or communities. As federal, state, and local governments move to sustainable development, they will need the guidance of the legal profession in the fundamental law reform that is required, including not only better environmental statutes but also the widespread adoption of new legal instruments such as economic tools, tax laws, property laws, and land use and planning authorities. Corporations will need the service of counsel to embrace the new, more comprehensive system of regulation, incentives, and contracts, including implications for compliance and liability, as well as opportunities for profit. Citizen organizations will need the best possible lawyering to ensure that implementation protects the public interest. Environmental lawyers should also care because sustainable development is important to the future of America. Sustainable development is squarely within the U.S. national interest, as traditionally defined รข014 in our economic interest, in our social interest, in our security interest. The United States is by far the world's largest consumer of energy and materials, and the world's largest polluter, so it is impossible to achieve sustainable development on a global basis without U.S. participation in a broad international effort, including implementation across American society. In turn, U.S. economic health depends on foreign resources and foreign markets, including, importantly, those in the poorer countries. Given the threat to our nation and our planet, however, sustainable development may require more than participation by attorneys; it may imply a new professional duty.

Keywords: sustainable development, environmental law, legal profession, lawyer, attorney, legal ethics, pollution control

JEL Classification: K32, Q28, Q38, Q48, Q01

Suggested Citation

Dernbach, John C., Why Lawyers Should Care about Sustainable Development (2002). Environmental Forum, Vol. 19, July/August 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1103226 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1103226

John C. Dernbach (Contact Author)

Widener University - Commonwealth Law School ( email )

3800 Vartan Way
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9380
United States

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