Groups campaigning for sustainable development can now apply for charitable status following a decision by the Charity Commission to recognise the promotion of the area as a charitable purpose.
Previously, providing education about sustainable development was considered charitable, but promoting sustainability in its own right was not.
The decision comes after an appeal lasting four years by sustainability group the Environment Foundation, which works to change society's attitudes to help advance sustainability and organises seminars for NGOs, businesses and government.
The group fought to change the charitable objectives that they had registered with the Charity Commission so that they reflected a shift in the organisation's activities away from environmental preservation towards the promotion of sustainable development.
The Charity Commission advised the Environment Foundation of the success of their appeal in February, but details have only just been made public.
"It has been a long drawn out process, but we are very pleased at the fact that the Environment Foundation has stuck to its guns and has been rewarded," said the foundation's chair, John Elkington. "It has very significant implications for this whole area of charitable endeavour."
News of the change will relieve groups that have been risking retraction of their status by focusing on the promotion of sustainable development while this was not considered a charitable cause.
Organisations dedicated to promoting sustainability will now be able to register as charities, and charities that are already registered may wish to change their charitable objectives to reflect their work in sustainability.
"I think a lot of groups will be affected by this," said Stephen Lloyd, head of charities and social enterprise at Bates, Wells & Braithwaite, the law firm which acted for the foundation.
"I would not be surprised if a number of leading development agencies wanted to add sustainable development to their registered charitable activities."
Helen Holdaway, director of the Environment Foundation, added: "We have been in touch with all sorts of groups who also wanted the Charity Commission to make this change, so there are a lot of people waiting with interest.
"Victory could not have come at a better time - its the foundation's 20th anniversary year."
The decision is also a significant step for environmental groups wishing to affirm the importance of sustainability.