The concept of ecologically sustainable development has been incorporated into a number of pieces of legislation (Stein, 2000) and environmental planning instruments in New South Wales. There is a significant question, however, as to whether its incorporation is anything more than pure symbolism. This paper begins by exploring the limited role played by ESD principles in decision-making processes under existing legislation, as a prelude to a more detailed analysis of what commitment to ESD principles should mean for such processes. It focuses in particular on the implications of such a commitment at the holistic level of environmental and natural resources planning, as distinct from control of individual projects. In doing so, it draws attention to the particular problems faced by planners in urban and urbani sing environments.