The topic of this paper is the role governments should, could and do play in the context of governance for sustainable development. It will deal with both perspectives, normative demands for governmental action and positive government activities. Two central questions will be tracked. What can be said about the role governments play on different state levels in governance sustainable development? And most important, how do different government levels respond to the challenge of environmental policy integration? It will be shown that the subnational level has scope and means to approach ecological sustainability self-contained. The paper reflects innovative approaches to governance for sustainable development that have been initiated in the federal systems of Germany and the USA and, on the other hand, the impacts of interactions between political levels on this 3. Finally, conclusions will be drawn on the role central governments can play in multi-level governance for sustainable development, enhancing public and private activies.