Law of Sustainability − Sustainable Law

“Sustainable Development” as a Legal Term and Indicators for a Sustainable Legal System


BMBF and budget


09/2004 − 12/2006


“Sustainable Development” as Legal Term

The Term "sustainable development" fulfills in the Law of the European Union different functions. In the Primary legislation it serves as a general aim. Its importance in competetion to the other aims of the EU, i.e. its relative weight, is rather controversial and its consequences for the interpretation of the secondary legislation, e.g. the Habitats Directive, are rather unclear. Recently the notion 'sustainable development' is mentioned in the Water Framework Directive und serves there as a yardstick for the consideration of environmental, economic and social interests in an individual project. Starting from the scientific debate on the implementation of the aim, the legal content of sustainable development shall be determined for different contexts.

Indicators for a Sustainable Legal System

The current social and scientific efforts for the development of a system of sustainable development indicators extend to institutional aspects. This means that decision-making procedures in society (markets, hierachies, elections and negotiations), the norms that have obtained acceptance in the society (social norms, conventions, legal rules) and the organisational structures became the subject of the development of indicators in the fields of activities for reaching sustainable development.

This is the point at which the project commences: It singles out an aspect of the institutional arrangement, namely the legal system, and answers the question of whether, from the constitution of the legal system, conclusions can be drawn regarding the state of the pathway towards sustainable development. Of special interest in this context are: the level of development of environmental law, the degree of integration of environmental concerns in other fields of law (e.g. construction law, spatial planning law, agricultural law, traffic law), the legal options for citizens to participate in decision-making procedures affecting the environment, enforcement of environmental provisions and the degree of legal acknowledgement of the principle of sustainable development.


  • Unnerstall, H. (2003): Nachhaltige Entwicklung und intergenerationelle Gerechtigkeit im Europarecht. In: Monika Bobbert, Marcus Düwell und Kurt Jax (Hrsg.): Umwelt − Ethik − Recht; Tübingen und Basel 2003, S. 125-152
  • Unnerstall, H. (2004): Making Sustainable Development Operabale: The Case of the European Community Law. In: The International Sustainable Development Research Conference 29-30 March 2004, University of Manchester, Conference Proceedings; S. 637-644
  • Unnerstall, H. (2005): 'Sustainable Development' as legal term in European Community Law: Making It Operable within the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive. UFZ-Diskussionspapier 16/2005
  • Unnerstall, H. (2006): 'Sustainable Development' as criterion for the interpretation of Art. 6 Habitats Directive. In: European Environment (angenommen)