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J. William Futrell

President, Environmental Law Institute; President, Sierra Club

Interview Year: 2011

Coming of age in the sixties, many environmental pioneers embraced the social movements of the decade, especially the civil rights movement.  No one had more personal experience and commitment to the drive to change the status and lives of African Americans than William Futrell, a son of the Deep South.  After graduating from Tulane University, Futrell went to Germany on a Fulbright scholarship  and entered the Marine Corps, serving in East Asia.  He returned to attend Columbia Law School and went back to Louisiana to practice law in a private firm.

In the sixties, he joined the Sierra Club and set about to increase its then very small membership in the southern states.  During those years, he led citizen coalitions lobbying for wilderness and coastal protection laws, causing his wife Iva to remark that the Club had “taken over our life!”  As national president of the club in 1977-1978, Futrell forged a coalition with the National Urban League and other civil right groups for City Care, a campaign for improved urban environmental quality.

In 1971, Futrell moved from Alabama to the University of Georgia Law School, beginning a new phase of his career as a teacher and thought leader in the field of environmental law. He became President of the Environmental Law Institute in 1980, where for 23 years his vision and energy built an organization dedicated to policy research and the convening of professionals from all sectors for educational programs to improve and advance environmental law in the United States and abroad.  His work to help build a global network of environmental lawyers and to train thousands of judges on the fundamentals of new environmental laws earned him wide recognition for leadership in building international capacity to adopt and implement them.  As the first scholar to advocate integrating sustainable development concepts into environmental law, Futrell continues to consult in the field as President of Development Law Associates.