The German Sustainability Code (DNK)

The German Sustainability Code (DNK) is an adaptable transparency standard for sustainability reporting. It was developed in 2011 by the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) as part of a multi-stakeholder dialogue. The DNK is in the process of being updated to help companies with their new CSRD reporting obligations.

Entrepreneurial responsibility for sustainable development

The RNE’s mission is to promote the idea of sustainability in the business world. Companies impact sustainability according to the depth of their supply and production chains, and thus have a major role to play here. As such, the RNE has been working on the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) since 2006, defining it within the context of Germany’s SME-dominated (small and medium-sized enterprises) economy as “entrepreneurial responsibility for sustainable development”, which applies regardless of the different levels of hierarchy, forms of organisation or sector.

Using the Code to report on sustainability performance

Any business that manufactures products or offers services relies on the trust of their business partners and customers. When it comes to sustainability reporting, the RNE considers first and foremost the disclosure of conflicting goals and obstacles to be a sign of credibility – and less so the overly confident reporting of perfection. We are therefore committed to supporting transparent and comparable reporting by organisations. In the wake of the global financial crisis, the Council developed the German Sustainability Code in 2011, following in-depth talks with investors and other stakeholders. As a reporting standard for aspects of sustainability, it provides low-threshold access to sustainability reporting and enables users to reflect on their own corporate sustainability performance.

The aim here is not reporting for its own sake, but rather to encourage a gradual rerouting towards sustainable business and to support the corresponding management practice and transparency.

The DNK integrates the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS)

January 2023 saw a clear expansion of sustainability reporting requirements by the EU in the form of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). As a result, from 2025, more than 13,000 German companies will gradually have to start reporting on their sustainability performance in line with the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS), and the comprehensive legal requirements will pose major challenges for many of them.

To support companies in Germany, not least with tackling the new reporting obligations, the DNK is being revised in terms of structure and content to meet the legal requirements to come. The Code will integrate the EU reporting standards (ESRS) and offer both companies that are obligated to report and those who do so voluntarily additional support for meeting their reporting requirements. This should make it easier for SMEs in particular, who are faced with especially tricky challenges and questions from their supply chains, to fulfil the requirements and turn sustainability into a competitive advantage.

In spring 2024, the Sustainability Code was transferred to a project funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. Information about the new project and the further development of the Sustainability Code can be found on the DNK website.