Governing for Sustainability

Governing for Sustainability
John C. Dernbach & Scott E. Schang, editors
Release Date

Sustainable development may be one of the most important and potentially transformational ideas to come out of the last century. The ultimate objectives of sustainable development are freedom, opportunity, justice, and quality of life for everyone in this and future generations. While the United States has a substantial body of environmental and social protection laws, we are far from being a sustainable society. The question is what to do.

This book provides a detailed set of recommendations for federal, state, tribal, territorial, and local governments, as well as the private sector and civil society organized around the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. The various contributions that personal behavior can make toward both public and private governance are included as well. These recommendations would help make America a better place for all. Every American has a role to play.

Interested in a sneak peek? Download the Introduction.

Available in print and as an e-book

About the Author

John C. Dernbach is Commonwealth Professor of Environmental Law and Sustainability at Widener University Commonwealth Law School and Director of the Environmental Law and Sustainability Center. He is a nationally and internationally recognized authority on sustainable development, climate change, and environmental law. He has written more than 60 articles for law reviews and peer-reviewed journals, and has authored, coauthored, or contributed chapters to more than 30 books. He is also the editor or principal author of three prior comprehensive assessments of U.S. sustainability efforts that made recommendations for future action. They are Acting as if Tomorrow Matters: Accelerating the Transition to Sustainability (2012), Agenda for a Sustainable America (2009) and Stumbling Toward Sustainability (2002). He is also co-editor, with Michael Gerrard, of Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (2019), a comprehensive analysis and description of more than 1,000 legal tools for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. Prior to joining the Widener faculty, he drafted four major waste and mining laws at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (now the Department of Environmental Protection).

Scott E. Schang is the founding Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Wake Forest School of Law where he is also a Professor of Practice. He also serves as Senior Advisor, Corporate Engagement, for the international land rights organization Landesa. He is an experienced sustainable development professional devoted to achieving sustainability through non-partisan, evidence-based policy research and advocacy. Prior to joining Wake Forest Law, Professor Schang was a Senior Director at Landesa and focused on improving companies’ impacts on the land tenure rights of the global poor. He spent 15 years with the Environmental Law Institute in positions ranging from Acting President to Editor-in-Chief of the Environmental Law Reporter to Director of the Africa Program. Prior to ELI, Professor Schang was an associate at Latham & Watkins and Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton. He has authored, co-authored and edited several articles, books, and treatises regarding environmental law.

Book Reviews

Dernbach and Schang have brought together a rich, diverse set of voices to outline how the United States can build a more sustainable economy and society. Small-gauge sustainability targets are not enough. As with recent administrative and legislative breakthroughs in climate, leaders can and must craft solutions that simultaneously advance multiple sustainability goals such as job creation and economic growth, public health, and social justice.

—David Hayes, Lecturer, Stanford Law School; former Special Assistant to the President for Climate Policy; and former Deputy Secretary of the Interior

Governing for Sustainability offers an inspired, timely, and important roadmap for meeting the wide ranging political, economic, and social justice challenges our nation faces in achieving sustainability. Each chapter, authored by one or more of the nation’s leading experts, is a treasure to be mined.

—Richard Lazarus, Howard J. and Katherine W. Aibel Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

In a new decade already defined by a worldwide pandemic, widespread natural disasters linked to climate change, violent insurrection in the United States, and brutal Russian aggression against Ukraine and the post-war international order, what can we learn from the message in Governing for Sustainability? We can learn that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, ably analyzed and advocated by the book’s authors, still present a persuasive agenda of action by all sectors of society to advance equity, prosperity, and environmental protection. Though attaining most of the goals by 2030 is far out of reach, it is encouraging that the authors see stronger synergy among many of the goals, such as climate protection and the relationship to infrastructure and employment, and greater potential for mobilizing all sectors in partnerships to work on collaborative problem solving. Sustainability strategy remains a strong platform for a new generation of leaders rising to make change.

—Leslie Carothers, former President, Environmental Law Institute

This book brings new attention to the transformational goal of sustainable development, by concentrating on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which President Obama committed the United States to achieve by 2030. Published on the 30th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit, John Dernbach and Scott Schang have added significantly to this laudatory goal by assembling 26 authors—all experts in the area—who outline and discuss the 17 goals, providing practical methods of achieving these far reaching, but exceptionally important multi-disciplinary objectives, thereby encouraging both potential U.S. leadership as well as a commitment to progress.

—John C. Cruden, former Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Department of Justice; former President, Environmental Law Institute; former President, American College of Environmental Lawyers

Sustainable development can feel overwhelming in its enormity. John Dernbach and Scott Schang have brought together a remarkable coalition of authors in a volume that both embraces that enormity and makes it concrete. From exploring the rationale behind the Sustainable Development Goals, to tracking progress to date, to clear recommendations for how to accelerate progress, the book shows how sustainable development can go—and must go—from a talking point to a reality.

—Jordan Diamond, President, Environmental Law Institute

Governing for Sustainability offers a sweeping review of America’s progress on meeting the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and thus a gauge of our nation’s commitment to the sustainability imperative that undergirds life in the 21st century. With an unparalleled team of authors, the strengths and weaknesses of our efforts on each goal are systematically assessed and a pathway to a sustainable future carefully defined. The book is essential reading for students, professors, journalists (in all media), government officials (at every level), business executives, and NGO leaders—and all those who care about sustainable development as the foundation for human flourishing.

—Daniel C. Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law & Policy, Yale University, and editor, A Better Planet: 40 Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future

This volume presents a compelling case for the United States’ critical role in addressing the ecological crises facing the world. More than just a warning, this collection of essays from more than two dozen sustainability experts provides a grounded set of recommendations for how governments, the private sector, civil society, and individuals can integrate environmental protection with our fights against economic, gender, and racial inequality on the path toward sustainability.

—Russ Feingold, President, American Constitution Society

Since adoption in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals have become major animating guideposts for governments and businesses around the world, but at the national level the United States has been largely missing in this advance. Into the void strides this group of experts, assessing the state of the SDGs in the United States, offering practical suggestions for what a more meaningful embrace of the SDGs could look like in this country, and pointing to how such measures could produce the future that we want and that future generations will desperately need.

—Scott Fulton, former President, Environmental Law Institute

Achieving true sustainable development is the great challenge of the human species, now and into the future. Nothing is more important than addressing people, planet, and prosperity in a just, balanced, and equitable manner globally and locally. The Sustainable Development Goals provide an essential framework for advancing our common journey to sustainability, and Dernbach and Schang’s book is a handy playbook for accelerating progress for people at all levels of expertise.

—Neil C. Hawkins, Sc.D.; President, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the most important mileposts for mapping sustainability success and ensuring every person has the opportunity to live a prosperous life. Governing for Sustainability serves a critical function by bringing together the top thought leaders in providing the turn-by-turn directions on how to successfully navigate each SDG at a time when the urgency has never been greater.

—Roger Martella, Chief Sustainability Officer, General Electric

Sustainability is the clarion call of our day. In these pages, an inspiring account of “how?” and “we can!” A must read for those who want to make a difference.

—Kathleen McGinty, Vice President and Chief Sustainability & External Relations Officer, Johnson Controls

Governing for Sustainability is a clarion call to action together with a blueprint of solutions for the United States to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. By examining U.S. progress toward achieving the SDGs, the collection of experts who have contributed to this timely book help us imagine a more sustainable future and the dialogue, partnerships, policies, and action to make it a reality. It is important and compelling reading for policymakers, business leaders, engaged members of the public, and all who seek to contribute, now, to a more sustainable society for all people.

—Vickie Patton, General Counsel, Environmental Defense Fund

Governing for Sustainability examines how the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals can be used to achieve environmental, economic, and social progress in the United States. Editors John Dernbach and Scott Schang combine the wisdom of 26 subject matter experts to assess the opportunities for sustainable development in the United States and to answer the most important questions of all: Can the United States lead the rest of the globe toward sustainable development? And if so, how?

—Bill Ritter, Jr., Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, Former Governor of Colorado

All nations have endorsed a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals to harmonize global action. This insightful book offers an agenda of pragmatic, realistic legal and policy measures that America can advance to sustain its own durable socio-economic development. Under John Dernbach and Scott Schang’s skillful editing, the 26 contributing authors offer expertise about law’s indispensable contributions navigating among competing interests toward building resilient and lasting prosperity. This book provides an indispensable and sensible blueprint for how the United States can make its own lasting contribution to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.

—Prof. Nicholas A. Robinson, Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, and Executive Governor, International Council of Environmental Law

This book is an invaluable contribution to the critical issue of governing for sustainability through a broad interdisciplinary lens. It should be read widely so as to implement its far reaching suggestions for achieving a sustainable and flourishing future.

—Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology

Dernbach and Schang have produced a remarkably valuable book for academics, policymakers, practitioners, and students. For insights into understanding and deploying the Sustainable Development Goals, you can’t do better than this volume. The SDGs are better known at the global level than at the domestic level in the United States. Attorneys seeking to understand and incorporate the SDGs into their practice will therefore find this volume indispensable. With chapters written by experts in each field, it provides the premier overview of the SDGs.

—Michael P. Vandenbergh, David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair in Law, Director, Climate Change Research Network, and Co-director, Energy, Environment and Land Use Program, Vanderbilt Law School

The Sustainable Development Goals are critical metrics that coordinate economic, environmental, and social needs. They are applicable in the United States as well as around the globe. This important book helps to highlight the immediate steps available to be taken to achieve a sustainable America.

—Tom Udall, U.S. Senator (ret.)