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Doing business in Germany: Sustainability

05 March 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 30 March 2012

Germany has no overall Act covering sustainable development, but rather a sustainability strategy adopted by the Federal Government in 2002.


Legal requirements

Germany has no overall Act covering sustainable development, but rather a sustainability strategy adopted by the Federal Government in 2002. This covers 21 topics, mapped to 35 goals (e.g. energy and resource productivity, maintenance of biodiversity, land use, ecological farming, etc.). In order to be able to measure progress, indicators are assigned to the goals. The implementation and development of the sustainability strategy is the responsibility of the whole federal government.

Sustainability strategy

A number of other initiatives and strategies contribute directly or indirectly to sustainable development and to the implementation of the sustainability strategy.

There are many support measures in place for a sustainable, energy-saving power supply, as well as export initiatives. Independently of these, there are a large number of different support programmes run by the federal states (Länder).

The rules of procedure of the Federal Government stipulate that all new Acts must be reviewed in terms of sustainability in the course of the legislative process (sustainability review included in the impact assessment).

Specifically to assure sustainable production of liquid biomass, payment for electricity generated from liquid biomass is linked to compliance with certain sustainability requirements defined by the Renewable Energy Act (EEG).

Sustainability Regulation to the Renewable Energy Act

Corporate social responsibility

The behaviour of businesses also has a crucial bearing on the future chances of individuals and whether the potential to shape a viable society for the future can be best exploited. Corporate behaviour thus bears a very great responsibility for social development. This responsibility is more than a mere shareholder value. Companies are part of society, and their actions must address social challenges as a whole. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) can forge an intelligent link between viable economic development on the one hand and social responsibility and safeguarding environmental resources on the other.

The federal government approved the National Strategy for the Corporate Responsibility of Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility - CSR) and the 'CSR - Action Plan' on 6 October 2010. With the 'CSR Action Plan', the federal government intends to strengthen and develop the corporate responsibility of companies and public institutions in Germany. The objective is to increase the role of responsible companies as leading examples. Voluntary CSR activities by companies in Germany are at a comparatively high level, something that is dictated by the statutory social and environmental standards and/or collective agreements. The details of the action plan are present in the following:

BMAS - CSR Action Plan of the federal government

Innovation through CSR - shaping a sustainable future

Megatrends in sustainability - rethinking corporate strategy

Sustainability reporting by businesses - status report for Germany 2007

EMAS - from the environmental declaration to the sustainability report


The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is a voluntary European environmental management system based on an EC Regulation. EMAS means systematic operational environmental protection at a high level and reflects the ambition to constantly improve individual environmental performance. Participation in EMAS shows how good a company is when it comes to environmental protection. Certification is awarded to businesses that go beyond the statutory minimum requirements in their efforts to protect the environment. All EMAS companies are entered in a register.

German EMAS register

EMAS page for Germany

The participating companies issue an environmental declaration covering the environmental impact and performance of their business. The environmental declaration is publicly available. All details are reviewed by a state-approved environmental auditor, who also confirms compliance with statutory provisions.

Database of German environmental auditors

The law requires businesses to comply with minimum social and environmental rules.

Administrative procedures

Showing corporate social responsibility

Businesses and economic associations may file registered declarations on the implementation of specific environmental objectives. In return, the expectation is that the State will forego imposing environmental rules upon them.

Information from the Federal Ministry for the Environment on declarations of commitment

Certification of standards

Environmental management standards

The implementation of EMAS in Germany is covered by the Environmental Audit Act and supplementary provisions. The German federal states also have a number of environmental management approaches that may not reach the high level of EMAS but are tailored to the needs of certain industries and so help to identify potential for initial savings. They also provide an opportunity to introduce a comprehensive environmental management system step by step.

Description of environmental management approaches in Germany

German EMAS regulations

Environmental Audit Act


The following web site, which is regularly updated, provides information on the Environmental Innovation Programme (a demonstration programme to promote investment in reducing environmental impact).


Promotion of pilot projects

Support is given to measures to use renewable energy sources in heat and power generation. In the field of heat generation, small plants are supported with investment grants, while large plants may receive redemption loans worth up to 30% of their eligible net investment costs. Eligible investments include plants to generate heat from solar energy, solid biomass and geothermal energy, and the construction of biogas processing plants, local heating networks and large-scale heat storage facilities. The following web site contains details of support options and the relevant legal provisions:

Renewable Energy Portal

The aim of the Renewable Energy Export Initiative is to support businesses by providing information on the export of renewable energy technologies.

Renewable Energy Export Initiative

Funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy sources

Energy support compass

The aim of the Recycling and Efficiency Technology (ReTech) Initiative is to stimulate and establish a transfer and export campaign, bringing the groups involved in the recycling and disposal field (politicians, economic associations, companies and financial institutions) together under a common strategy.

ReTech Initiative

The German Water Partnership is a joint initiative of the German water sector, combining the water industry, water research institutions and water-related associations. The organisation founded in May 2008 now has approx. 280 members and is supported by five federal ministries (BMU, BMBF, BMWi, BMZ and AA). The German Water Partnership is both an operational headquarters for companies and research institutes of the German water sector and a contact point for international enquiries. It also presents the wide range of products, services and innovations offered by the German water industry.

German Water Partnership

Doing business in Germany: Environmental rules

Doing business in Germany: Staff welfare

Source: European Commission 

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