Achieving Sustainability in EU Business and Financial Market Law - A Systems Thinking Approach (completed)

Attempts to govern human-environmental relationships have proven insufficient in facing the systemic and global environmental problems that are becoming an existential threat for humanity. In order to safeguard the Earth’s life support system, on which the welfare of current and future generations depends, it is necessary to rethink the organisation of both the economy and the regulatory system that governs it. In the European Union (EU), there has been only limited progress in integrating sustainability into EU business and financial market law to date. This is despite business and finance being crucial enablers in the transition towards a sustainable economy, and the fact that the EU has a particular opportunity to engage in the transition due to its regional, regulatory capacity and recourses. The thesis is an effort to advance social-ecological systems (SES) thinking into legal research by analysing to what extent EU business and financial market law contribute to sustainability.

About the Project

In paper I, my co-authors and I analyse how SES thinking can be used in transdisciplinary sustainability research, and thus improve corporate sustainability practices. We suggest that risk management can be a conceptual metaphor to translate SES thinking in order to make it more relevant in the context of corporate practice. On this basis, we conclude that SES thinking can be used as a bridging concept in transdisciplinary research collaboration for corporate sustainability.

In paper II, I present an interdisciplinary methodology for unveiling and assessing the interconnectivity between EU business and financial market law and its role in sustainability. This methodology draws on insights from empirical legal research, qualitative empirical research in social science, and social network analysis (SNA). This paper constitutes the methodology used in paper III, which exposes the limited progress that has been made in integrating sustainability into EU business and financial market law. I assess the interconnections between these two fields of law to uncover what areas are related and therefore have the greatest potential to become the subject of future research and policy interventions. I present a comprehensive map of legislative instruments and policies in EU business and financial market law using SNA and semi-structured interviews. I furthermore identify certain policy areas that are termed ‘policy hotspots’, i.e. business and financial market-relevant policy areas with potential to advance the EU’s commitment to sustainability.

In paper IV, my co-author and I investigate the emergence of the EU sustainable finance agenda aiming to correct the failures of the financial system. Deploying a longitudinal approach, consisting of archival data and semi-structured interviews, we highlight three phases in the policy debate, characterised by a shift in framing the relationship between sustainability and finance: initially conflictual, then complementary, and then conflictual again. Our analysis suggests that this shift depends on the heterogeneous coalition of social constituencies supporting EU sustainable finance reforms and changes in an overall prevalence of the financial logic in society.

In paper V, my co-author and I analyse critical aspects for enabling policy coherence for the transition to sustainability in three key policy areas. These policy areas are corporate governance, international investment and finance, and circular economy. These policy areas are all connected through global value chains. The analysis builds on the findings of the ‘policy hotspots’ in paper III. In order to analyse policy coherence in these policy areas, my co-author and I apply the lens of SES thinking. Considering these interlinked and evolving policy developments, we capture current state of play in EU business and financial market law and policy, present reform proposals and assess their feasibility. In doing so we also introduce ‘an ideal hierarchy of business, finance, and circular economy’, which shows how sustainability can be integrated into EU policy.

This PhD-project is part of the research project Sustainable Market Actors for Responsible Trade (SMART) that is funded by the EU's Framework Programme Horizon 2020.


The PhD will be delivered spring 2020. 


University of Oslo.

Published Feb. 10, 2017 2:12 PM - Last modified Dec. 8, 2021 11:42 AM


  • Hanna Christina Ahlström
Detailed list of participants