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"A balance between economy, ecology, and social responsibility can only be achieved through cooperation between society, politics, the economy, and each individual."

Vera Gäde-Butzlaff, Member of the Council
Logo: German Sustainability Code
Photo collage: turbine construction / finance chart with pencil - © Bosch / klosko, photocase.com

The German Council for Sustainable Development passed as resolution the Sustainability Code (PDF, 2020 KB) in its plenary session 13 October 2011. The transparency standard was sent to the German Federal Government with a recommendation for implementation.

A standalone project website went live in May 2013. In a database the Sustainability Code visualises the efforts of companies to achieve sustainability. It thus creates a greater commitment to do so in a transparent and comparable manner. The German Council for Sustainable Development broadens the basis for a green economy and raises relevance of sustainability issues. The aim is to re-orientate capital allocation in sustainably oriented business models. The Sustainability Code is suitable for companies of every size and legal form.

The development of the database is supported by a project of the Sustainable Business Institute by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel recognized the Sustainability Code in her speech at the annual conference of the German Council for Sustainable Development on 25 June 2012. It would be a good orientation for sustainable economy: "The Federal Government supports this Code. We advertise that even more companies apply it."

Some statements of prominent people and institutions illustrate the instrument’s potential:

"In addition to many other possible ways of demonstrating corporate social responsibility, the German Sustainability Code represents an appropriate tool for documenting sustainable corporate governance. The German Sustainability Code is a useful instrument to provide even greater support for German industry´s efforts to achieve sustainable development. It offers companies a reliable and, above all, voluntary basis for evaluating, expanding and communicating their activities in a credible manner. The Berlin Chamber of Industry and Commerce intends to continue supporting efforts to push ahead with the issue of sustainability in business, and the Code will be of considerable use in achieving this."

Dr. Eric Schweitzer, Former member of the German Council for Sustainble Development and president of the Berlin Chamber of Industry and Commerce

"The German Sustainability Code provides companies with a powerful incentive for greater transparency and sustainable responsibility. It is particularly encouraging that the German Sustainability Code was developed within the framework of a comprehensive dialogue – initiated by the Council for Sustainable Development and supported by numerous parties concerned. The focus is now on consistently continuing this collaboration to ensure that as many companies as possible put the German Sustainability Code into practice. Especially in light of the current discussion on a European Sustainability Strategy, the REWE Group will continue its active involvement with emphasis on the principles of transparency, credibility, responsibility and voluntary participation."

Alain Caparros, CEO REWE Group

"The political value of the German Sustainability Code for large, globally active companies is indisputable. They face considerable effort to meet the very different information requirements of investors. The German Sustainability Code is highly suitable for achieving standardisation. It is good for Germany to be a pioneer in this respect. Small and medium-sized enterprises, for which management systems and predefined report formats are not suited, can nevertheless derive important and helpful inspiration for sustainable management from the approaches of the Sustainability Code."

Peter Clever, member of the executive board of the German Employer Association (BDA)

"The German Sustainability Code is an instrument that can be used by companies with legal structures of all sorts to achieve transparency on sustainability, thus enabling making comparisons in terms of quality. With the proper regulatory framework, the Code will have a clearly positive impact on the capital markets and all stakeholders."

Christian Strenger, supervisory board member at DWS Investment, Fraport, TUI

"Sustainability is now more important than ever – which makes the commitment of the German Council for Sustainable Development all the more welcome. For us, the Association of Municipally Owned Enterprises (VKU), the green economy has always been part and parcel of our basic makeup. The Sustainability Code is an attractive instrument for local authorities as it makes sustainable action transparent. Anyone wishing to shape the future must make a start today. And where better than locally, at the community level."

Hans-Joachim Reck, managing director, VKU

The Sustainability Code describes environmental, social and corporate governance aspects (ESG) along 20 criteria with up to two key performance indicators each. The Sustainability Code is based on principles such as UN Global Compact, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the guideline ISO 26000 and the reporting standards of the Global Reporting Initiative and EFFAS. A systematic comparison of the Sustainability Code with the principles of UN Global Compact and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises can be found here (PDF, 61 KB). It also contains a commentary that explains terms, gives definitions and describes the steps towards conformity. The declaration of conformity can be prepared using a template (Word/DOC, 188 KB). The data can be entered with help of an online tool. Access is given with a company profile which is created on request. Please send you email to dialog-dnk@nachhaltigkeitsrat.de

Following extensive preparation at the expert level, the German Council for Sustainable Development submitted a draft of the Code on 29/1/2010 and invited the general public and companies to discuss it. The Council received about 80 discussion contributions by 25/02/2011. The draft was further refined at a workshop attended by various companies on 09/05/2011.

The Sustainability Code was practice-proofed in a participation phase for which various companies volunteered – including listed and capital-market-oriented companies from the manufacturing, wholesale/retail and services sectors. This phase examined whether the Code could be expected to have the desired impact in terms of orienting mainstream capital market actors towards sustainability and whether it would prove capable of providing the information required to do so. A summary of the findings can be found here (PDF, 113 KB).

Issues relating to the Code’s scope of validity and matters of implementation were put up for public discussion at a multi-stakeholder forum on 26 September 2011 in Frankfurt a.M. Further information on the Code’s conceptual design, its objectives, the key points of discussion during the process of its development, and the conceivable alternatives for implementation can be found in a summary (PDF, 296 KB) prepared by Prof. Dr. Alexander Bassen from the University of Hamburg. The expert is currently working an a status quo report and evaluation of the Sustainability Code. An intermediary report was presented on a Multistakeholderforum on November 30, 2012 (PDF, 1082 KB) in Berlin. Prof Bassen´s contribution is greatly acknowledged at this juncture.


Realization of GSC database

Logo Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) - Opens external link in new window

in co-operation with
Logo Sustainable Business Institute (SBI) - Opens external link in new window

Further development of GSC

Logo Bertelsmann Stiftung - Opens external link in new window
University Hamburg - Opens external link in new window
GdW Bundesverband deutscher Wohnungs- und Immobilienunternehmen e.V. - Opens external link in new window
Arbeitsgemeinschaft großer Wohnungsunternehmen (AGW) - Opens external link in new window