The Very Basis of Our Existence: Labour and the Neglected Environmental Dimension of Sustainable Development

22 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2009 Last revised: 9 Nov 2010

See all articles by Beate Sjåfjell

Beate Sjåfjell

University of Oslo - Faculty of Law

Date Written: December 2, 2009


Sustainable development is an overarching societal goal which encompasses three main dimensions: economic development, social development and environmental protection. It is also a general objective of the law of the European Union. The Lisbon Treaty has finally been ratified and entered into force on the 1st of December 2009 after much controversy, including two Irish referendums and one Czech president who kept us all waiting to see what would happen. Now that the Treaty of Lisbon is in force, this draft article discusses the Treaty amendments as concerns the position of sustainable development and especially its environmental dimension. Sustainable development, and especially its global aspect, is enhanced by the Lisbon Treaty, as is the environmental integration rule in the former Article 6 of the EC Treaty, now Article 11 TFEU (the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). Sustainable development has a strong legal position among the ultimate objectives of the European Union, underpinned by the growing recognition in the EU of the inextricable entity of humanity, our natural environment and our economic system.

However, the political and bureaucratic will to carry through the necessary practical implementation required by the environmental integration rule is lacking. Strong economic interests and lobbying by trade unions ensure that the aspect that gets attention is the challenge of combining economic growth and the socio-economic goal of more jobs, in other words two of the three interrelated dimensions of sustainable development. The environmental dimension is far too often neglected.

The main argument made in this draft article is that ecological sustainable development as the new law is not only supported by normative necessity but also has a legal basis in the law of the European Union.

This article outlines the legal basis and its implications for the prioritisation between the three dimensions in EU law and concludes with some reflections on the possible contribution of labour to the necessary transition to sustainable societies.

Following the conference on 'The Role of Labour Standards in Sustainable Development: Theory in Practice' held at the British Academy in April 2009, an edited volume is being compiled on this topic (to be edited by Tonia Novitz, Dave Mangan and Lisa Tortell). This paper was commissioned for that volume.

Keywords: Sustainable development, Treaty of the European Union, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the Lisbon Treaty, labour, trade unions, environmental dimension, environmental integration rule, Norwegian collective agreements, company law, consultation, codetermination

Suggested Citation

Sjåfjell, Beate, The Very Basis of Our Existence: Labour and the Neglected Environmental Dimension of Sustainable Development (December 2, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Beate Sjåfjell (Contact Author)

University of Oslo - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavsplass
Oslo, 0130


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