Management concept for sustainability

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Strategy Management concept for sustainability

The Sustainable Development Strategy is designed to facilitate the practical orientation towards sustainable action by politics and society - the goal is to achieve environmentally, economically and socially balanced development.

7 min reading time

Checking the progress

Checking the progress

Photo: BilderBox / Erwin Wodicka

Content and management of the German Sustainable Development Strategy (sustainability management system)

I. Importance, basis and scope of sustainability as a management tool

  1. Sustainable development (sustainability) is a guiding principle for the policies of the Federal Government. As the goal and benchmark of government action at national, European and international level, it must be taken into consideration for measures in all policy areas. The planetary boundaries of our earth, together with the orientation towards a life of dignity for all, form the absolute guidelines for political decisions.
  2. Sustainability aims to achieve intergenerational equity, social cohesion, quality of life and recognition of international responsibility. In this sense, economic performance, the protection of the natural foundations of life and social responsibility must be reconciled with each other, so that developments are sustainable in the long term.
  3. The German Sustainable Development Strategy is the strategy of 2002 (National Sustainable Development Strategy) in the new edition of 2016, with the current update of 2018. It describes a long-term process of policy development, and provides orientation for this process.
  4. The primary responsibility for sustainable development at a national level lies with the Federal Chancellery, in order to emphasise its importance for all policy areas, and to ensure control across all government ministries.
  5. Cooperation between all relevant protagonists is essential for the achievement of sustainability. Additional protagonists in sustainability are

a) International level

Germany is committed to making progress towards sustainable development under the auspices of the United Nations (especially in the context of the High-level Political Forum, HLPF) and in the context of other formats such as the G7 and G20, as well as in bilateral relationships.

b) European level


  • advocates the strengthening of sustainability and implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at a European level, in particular by means of an implementation strategy, as well as by linking this with national strategies,
  • collaborates closely with other European countries (including in the context of the ESDN) on issues of sustainable development.

c) States and municipalities
There are regular exchanges between the Federal Government and the Länder (federal states) regarding sustainability through the relevant bodies, with the aim of better coordination of activities and goals. The municipal associations are also involved.

d) Civil society (citizens, trade unions, academia, churches and associations)
The protagonists in civil society are called upon in a variety of ways to support the achievement of sustainability, and are constantly involved. Consumers make individual contributions, including through the selection of products and their socially and ecologically sustainable and economically viable use.

e) Private sector
Companies, chambers of commerce and associations are called upon to play their part in sustainable development. Thus, for example, companies bear responsibility for their production as well as their products and services. Providing information to consumers on the health and environmental attributes of the products, as well as on sustainable methods of production, is part of this responsibility.

II. Sustainability management concept

1. For testing and development of measures in their areas of responsibility, government ministries draw on the management concept for sustainable development. This contains the following three elements:

  • Principles of sustainable development (see 2. below)
  • Indicators and targets (see 3. below)
  • Monitoring (see 4. below)

2.  Principles of sustainable developmentThe following principles contain the fundamental requirements for sustainable policies. They serve the operationalisation of the guiding principle of sustainable development, and are orientated towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in the context of an urgently-needed transformation of our society and economy.

(1.) Consistently apply sustainable development as a guiding principle in all areas and in all decisions

 The overarching goal and benchmark of all activity is to permanently secure the natural foundations of life on earth, and to enable a life of dignity for all people, now and in the future (World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), 1987).

For this purpose, economic performance, the protection of the natural foundations of life, as well as social justice and equal participation, taking into account systemic interactions as well as technological and social innovations, must be considered holistically in all decisions, so that developments are environmentally and socially viable for current and future generations - also from a global perspective. Political action must be coherent.

(2.) Recognise global responsibility

a) In accordance with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, the following must be linked at a global level:

  • the fight against poverty, hunger and social inequality and exclusion,
  • the respect, protection and guaranteeing of human rights,
  • the full participation of everyone in economic and social development,
  • the protection of the environment, and in particular of the climate, including adhering to the limits of the ecological carrying capacity in the regional and global framework,
  • as well as the rule of law and good governance.

b) Germany should take into account and support sustainable development in other countries. Our actions in Germany should, insofar as possible, not be a burden to people and the environment in other countries.

(3.) Maintain the natural foundations of life

a) To conserve the natural foundations of life, and to respect the planetary limits, material cycles must be closed as quickly as possible and/or brought in line with ecosystemic processes and functions. To achieve this,

  • renewable natural resources (such as forests or fish stocks) and the soil may only be used in the framework of their regenerative capacity, and their other ecological functions must not be affected;
  • non-renewable natural resources (such as mineral raw materials and fossil energy sources) must be used as sparingly as possible. Renewable resources should replace the use of non-renewable resources, insofar as this reduces the burden on the environment, and this usage is also sustainable in all aspects;
  • the release of substances may only take place in accordance with the precautionary principle, in the framework of the ecological limits of the carrying capacity of natural systems (the environment’s capacity to react).

b) Dangers and unreasonable risks to human health and nature are to be avoided.

(4.) Strengthen sustainable operations

a) The structural change necessary for global sustainable consumption and production, and the technical modernisations required for this, should be designed to be economically successful as well as ecologically and socially sustainable - and fair for all generations - in a German and global context.

b) Energy use and consumption of resources as well as transport services must be decoupled from economic growth. At the same time, efforts must be made to ensure the increase in demand for energy, resources and transport services is minimised, and offset by decreasing consumption through efficiency gains (absolute decoupling).

c) Sustainable agriculture and fishing must be productive, competitive as well as socially and environmentally compatible; in particular, they must protect and preserve biodiversity, soil and water, and fulfil the requirements of appropriate animal keeping and preventive consumer health protection.

d) The public budgets are bound to ensure intergenerational equity in all dimensions of sustainability. The financial markets should take into account the requirements of sustainable development.

(5.) Maintain and improve social cohesion in an open society

In order to strengthen social cohesion and not leave anyone behind,

  • poverty and social exclusion should be prevented and/or overcome as far as possible, and inclusive prosperity promoted,
  • equivalent living conditions should be striven for in all regions,
  • everyone should have an equal chance to participate in economic development,
  • required modifications to the demographic development should take place at an early stage in politics, the economy and society,
  • everyone should be able to participate in social, cultural and political life in a comprehensive and non-discriminatory manner, and
  • contributions to the reduction of poverty and inequality should be made worldwide.

(6.) Use education, science and innovation as drivers of sustainable development

a) The required qualifications and competences should be anchored in the entire education system, in the sense of "education for sustainable development".

The opportunities for participation in high-quality education and the acquisition of skills for sustainable development should be further improved, irrespective of origin, gender and age.

b) Scientific findings should be taken into account as the basis for all decisions. Science and research are called upon to increasingly orientate themselves towards the goals and challenges of global sustainable development.

c) Sustainability aspects should be taken into account consistently right from the beginning of innovation processes, in particular in the context of digitalisation, so that opportunities for sustainable development can be utilised, and risks for people and the environment can be avoided. At the same time, the desire for and scope of innovation should be enhanced.