Posted on September 2, 2014 by John Dernbach
Will the ABA make leadership on issues of sustainability a permanent part of the organization’s infrastructure and policy? That is the key recommendation of the American Bar Association’s Task force on Sustainable Development. The July 31, 2014 Task Force report recommends that the ABA strengthen its ability to provide leadership on sustainability by creating a sustainability entity within ABA that is directly responsible to the ABA president. “First and foremost,” the report said, “[the ABA] should establish a permanent infrastructure for integrating sustainability within the ABA over the long term.”
As recommended by the Task Force, the sustainability entity would engage “the entire organization and membership, and convey the ABA’s ethic for economic, social and environmental responsibility” under a “leadership team that reports directly to the ABA President.”
The sustainability leadership entity would be guided by a short “written statement of ABA’s vision and values on sustainability relevant to the legal profession.” It would be responsible for issuing an “annual report on ABA’s progress toward achieving sustainability” and on “law-related developments” on sustainability. In addition, it would run an “ABA-wide program of annual awards for exemplary sustainability efforts by lawyers, law organizations, and others.” Finally, it would be responsible for “[m]aintaining and enhancing the Resource Center” by, among other things, “making it prominently accessible from the ABA homepage.”
The Task Force recommendation follows from then-ABA President James R. Silkenat’s 2013 charge to the Task Force to “focus on ways that the ABA can provide leadership on a national and international basis on sustainable development issues.” (See my earlier blog, “ABA Task Force to Help Mainstream Sustainability in Law Practice.”)
The report also described the Task Force’s achievements in its first year. Chief among these is the creation of an online Resource Center “that is dedicated to provide, on an ongoing basis, sustainable development tools, links, and other information for lawyers and law organizations.”
The Task Force, which has twenty members (including me) representing the private sector, government, nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations, and academia, is chaired by Lee A. DeHihns, a member of the Environmental & Land Development Group at Alston & Bird in Atlanta, Georgia and a former chair of the ABA Section on Environment, Energy, and Resources. Although the Task Force was originally established for one year, the ABA Board of Governors has approved the Task Force for a second year. In its second year, the Task force plans to address three additional areas where greater effort is needed to foster sustainable development: legal education, the role of lawyers, and government.
On legal education, the task force will consider, among others, a recommendation to “identify specific areas of knowledge and practice skills that current lawyers and law organizations should possess in order to assure the basic understanding of sustainability needed for the competent practice of law in the 21st century.” It will also consider a recommendation for the development or endorsement of “sustainability education and certification programs (via law schools or [continuing legal education] providers) that would enable lawyers who have taken a specific number of hours of sustainability-related courses to obtain a certificate.”
On law practice, the task force will consider, among others, a recommendation that the ABA encourage all lawyers to consider ways of incorporating sustainable development into their law practice. On government, the Task Force will consider specific ways of supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in fostering sustainability, as provided by EPA’s new strategic plan.
The report notes that lawyers tend to lag behind their clients: “Clients, including business and industry clients, as well as nongovernmental and governmental clients, have become increasingly engaged in sustainability, with growing sophistication and more intensive commitment….[Yet] the legal community has been noticeably absent from meaningful participation in many sustainability ‘communities of practice.’ The Task Force is working to change that dynamic.”
Of course, the recommendations in this report are just that: recommendations. The ABA will decide how to respond to them by following its normal policymaking processes. However, the establishment of the Resource Center makes it easier for lawyers to obtain relevant information about sustainability. Keeping the Task Force active for a second year provides an opportunity for continued dialogue.