“Sustainable development is among the most important ideas to come out of the twentieth century,” Professor Dernbach states in his new book, Agenda for a Sustainable America. “Sustainability deserves that label because it provides a framework for humans to live and prosper in harmony with nature rather than, as we have for centuries, at nature’s expense. Everything we care about—a growing economy, human well-being, and security—is compromised, undermined, or lessened by environmental degradation. Conversely, higher environmental quality contributes to greater quality of life, a growing economy, and more security.”  Sustainable development was first endorsed by the nations of the world, including the United States, at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (or Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro.  Widener scholarship—some of it done with students—has played a leading role in the effort to foster sustainable development.

Professor Dernbach leads a national project assessing sustainability efforts in the United States and making recommendations for future actions. Three publications have resulted from this project. The first, a 1997 article in the Environmental Law Reporter, catalogued U.S. progress in the first five years since the 1992 Earth Summit. The article grew out of a seminar and was coauthored with Professor Dernbach’s students. The second, a book entitled Stumbling Toward Sustainability (Environmental Law Institute Press 2002), brought together leading experts to assess progress on specific topics in the first decade after the Earth Summit and make recommendations. The most recent book, Agenda for a Sustainable America (Environmental Law Institute Press 2009), relies on most of the same experts to review progress since 2002. Agenda also contains more than 100 specific, near-term recommendations for the United States to move toward sustainability.  Professor Dernbach later chaired or cochaired the Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Ecosystems  committee for two years, and helped draft the ABA Standing Committee’s proposed resolutions on sustainable development and climate change that have been adopted by the ABA House of Delegates.