Oregon State Bar Sustainable Future Section
  • Date submitted: 30 Oct 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Oregon State Bar Sustainable Future Section
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Partnership (1 hits),

Full Submission

Rio + 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

October 30, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Subject: Input for the Rio 20 Compilation Document

As the Executive Committee of the Sustainable Future Section (?the Section?) of the Oregon State Bar1
Law is an essential element when addressing the two themes of Rio 20: ?green economy? and ?the institutional framework of sustainable development?. As Our Common Future explains, in the United States of America, we write to request that the Rio 20 Compilation Document include the reasons and the manner in which the legal profession can join forces with other economic and social actors to promote sustainability. Lawyers can educate clients by including sustainability as an aspect of legal counseling, and lawyers can, and must, change their own practices to make them more sustainable.

?Sustainability requires the enforcement of wider responsibilities for the impacts of decisions. This requires changes in the legal and institutional frameworks that will enforce the common interest. Some necessary changes in the legal framework start from the proposition that an environment adequate for health and well-being is essential for all human beings including future generations. Such a view places the right to use public and private resources in its proper social context and provides a goal for more specific measures.? Our Common Future Art. 76, available at http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-02.htm.

Indeed, Annex 1 of Our Common Future is a ?Summary of Proposed Legal Principles for Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development Adopted by the WCED Experts Group on Environmental Law?. http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-a1.htm. Notwithstanding the key interaction between law and sustainability, lawyers in general have not yet played a significant role in the sustainability movement and its growing impact on social goals and behaviors.
We feel it is essential to examine the important role lawyers can play regarding sustainability in the Rio 20 Compilation Document. Traditionally, law as a profession has been regarded by many as reactive, that is, lawyers follow their clients in the decision-making process. Yet lawyers help clients make fully informed decisions. A lawyer educated about sustainability is able to provide clients with information on the impact of clients? decisions in terms of advancing or hindering a green economy and operating within an effective institutional framework for sustainable development. The Oregon State Bar provides a model that can be applied to other professional lawyers organizations, and the Sustainable Future Section provides a model to educate lawyers in sustainability and to facilitate integrating sustainability into the practice of law. This paper explains specific actions that were effective in creating the Oregon model so that they can be imitated.

Oregon State Bar Task Force on Sustainability
After years of growing interest among individual Oregon attorneys and attorney groups, in 2008 the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors (?the Board?) commissioned a task force of Oregon lawyers to review and make recommendations to the Board relating to sustainability. The charge required the task force to consider the Bar?s internal operations and carbon footprint, consider how to educate and encourage lawyers and law firms in sustainability, consider how the Bar should integrate sustainability

into the Bar structure and whether, and how, the Bar should be concerned about the rights and opportunities of future generations, consider the judiciary?s and the administration?s use of resources, and make recommendations regarding all of the above. The task force fulfilled its charge and submitted a Sustainability Task Force Report in 2009 recommending a framework by which the Bar and individual lawyers could incorporate sustainability into the legal profession and individual law practice. The report recommended that the Bar?s governing body adopt a bylaw that would include considerations of sustainability principles, form a ?Sustainable Future Section? for lawyers to study and educate lawyers in the application of sustainability to law and law practice, and evaluate the Bar?s carbon footprint and determine how to lessen that impact.

1. Bylaw:
In October 2009, the Board added Article 26 to the Oregon State Bar Bylaws:
?The Bar supports the goal of sustainability, generally defined as meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Because Bar operations and the practice of law impact the environment and society generally, the Bar will be cognizant of sustainability in its internal operating practices as well as in its service to members. Internally, the Executive Director will designate a sustainability coordinator for Bar operations, will encourage continuous sustainability improvement in Bar operations, and will report to the Board of Governors at least annually on progress and impediments. In the practice of law, principles of sustainability may be important in addressing competing economic, social and environmental priorities that impact future generations. The Bar will encourage education and dialogue on how law impacts the needs and interests of future generations relative to the advancement of the science of jurisprudence and improvement of the administration of justice.?

2. Sustainable Future Section:
With approximately 290 lawyer members, the Section is devoted to the relationship between sustainability and law. The Section supports sustainability by providing institutional expertise to the Oregon State Bar and its members, educating attorneys and other legal professionals on sustainability and its integration into the law and on best office practices, and promoting dialogue on how law interfaces with the needs and interests of future generations. The Section provides opportunities for the judicial branch and Bar to engage in constructive dialogues about creating new legal frameworks around sustainability and in facing the daunting challenges of climate change.

Among the Section?s activities, it has begun study groups focusing on topics such as emerging sustainability criteria in requests for proposals involving legal services, and the feasibility and effect of creating a state office of legal guardian to analyze how proposed legislation and administrative rules might impact the environmental interests of future generations. A 2009 report exploring this latter topic in depth is "Recalibrating the Law of Humans with the Laws of Nature: Climate Change, Human Rights, and Intergenerational Justice?.

To educate lawyers, the Section maintains a website (http://osbsustainablefuture.org/), produces a quarterly newsletter, and organizes one- to two-hour legal education programs on a variety of topics directly related to sustainability. Examples of topics covered in the newsletter include: ?The Law Office Sustainability Policy?, ?The Ethical Dimensions of Sustainability?, and ?The Precautionary Principle?. Program topics have included ?How Sustainability is Transforming the Practice of Law?, ?Should the Oregon Constitution be Amended to Protect the Environmental Rights of Future Generations??, ?The Paperless Office?, ?Human Right to Water?, and ?Ecosystem Services?. Continuing legal education credits are available for most programs sponsored by the Section. In addition, in 2010, the Section created Sustainable Leadership Awards to recognize the exceptional contributions of lawyers and law firms in advancing sustainability. The Section is in the process of creating a Partnership in Sustainability program to recognize law firms implementing and maintaining sustainable office practices that satisfy criteria established by the Section.

3. Carbon footprint:

The Oregon State Bar office operates for 60 hours a week with 135 workers on the main shift and 135 personal computers, serving approximately 17,500 members in Oregon, other states, Washington D.C., U.S. territories, and other countries. The Sustainability Task Force Report and subsequent carbon footprint reports provide the Bar information on the extent to which greenhouse gas emissions result from its operations and key actions the Bar can take to conserve resources and reduce this impact.


Lawyers may assist their clients in two ways to advance the themes of Rio 20 and sustainable development: we can educate clients, and we can reflect sustainability values in our own operations as individual professionals and as a profession as a whole. The example of the Oregon State Bar demonstrates how lawyers can do this. With information and awareness of the relationship between law and sustainability, lawyers can further sustainable development by helping craft legally sound frameworks for the private and public sectors to implement the steps that will undoubtedly be a product of Rio 20.

Thank you for considering this input.


Oregon State Bar Sustainable Future Section, Executive Committee
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