Many planning and development activities fail to reflect the principles of sustainable development. This neglect is a consequence of the dominance of the growth paradigm and can be seen in both developed and developing economies. Alternative models, such as ecological modernization, provide an opportunity to promote mutually supporting economic, social and environmental development. Such models imply the need for a transformation in attitudes in order to promote sustainable strategies and the means for their implementation. Drawing on case studies in the UK (Greater Manchester) and China (the Pearl River Delta) the paper illustrates the weaknesses inherent in the traditional growth paradigm and in the resulting modes of planning. Lessons and policy guidance for the introduction of a more sustainable approach to regional and urban planning are provided from the study of the contrasting cases.