Targets and notes for users

Why was this handout developed?

There are many standards available that enable organisations to establish an effective and credible sustainability management system and to transparently develop and publicise this system. Most of these standards are oriented towards commercial enterprises. To date, there is still no generally accepted understanding of how non-university research organisations can operationalise the concept of sustainable development or systematically integrate it into their processes. Management systems developed primarily for businesses are only of limited applicability because research institutions, as not-for-profit organisations, differ greatly from commercial enterprises in terms of their mission, business purpose, and legal and organisational structure. Another difference is that – unlike most products and services of commercial enterprises – it sometimes takes a long time for the environmental and social impact of research to become apparent.

To close this gap, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Helmholtz Association, and the Leibniz Association have jointly developed the handbook presented on this website as part of the BMBF-funded joint project LeNa, Guidelines for Sustainability Management. It offers a research-specific interpretation of existing standards for sustainability management and sustainability reporting. Furthermore, it provides an overview of key approaches, areas for action, and implementation options that explicitly account for the characteristics of research organisations – irrespective of whether they conduct applied research or basic research.

The areas for action are grouped under the five functional areas of Organisational management, Research, Human resources, Building and infrastructure, and Supportive processes. "Fact sheets" have also been developed to go into greater detail about individual topics under the areas for action, and refer to further literature and standards.

Who is this handout for?

This web-based handout is aimed primarily at decision-makers in non-university research organisations and at all those concerned with sustainability in research at the level of the umbrella organisation or in the individual facility, centre, or institute. The intention is to make it easier for organisations that are at the beginning of their sustainability commitment to address the issue, as well as to support those that want to expand and improve upon their existing sustainability management systems.

Why should research organisations care about sustainability?

In the face of prevalent ecological, social, and economic challenges, politics and civil society are increasingly looking to research to come up with solutions for dealing with the pressing issues of societal development. These demands are reflected in political strategy papers at various levels, for example in the German government's National Sustainability Strategy and High-Tech Strategy, in the EU Sustainability Strategy, in the EU Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, and in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

While being expected to help solve society's problems and identify future challenges, research organisations are also expected to avoid the risks and potential harm that research activities could cause, given that scientific findings and inventions often have a long-term and sometimes disruptive impact on society and the environment. Like any other organisation or company, research organisations have a direct responsibility for the impact of their activities on society, employees, and the environment.

How does this handout tie in with existing standards?

References and notes are provided to show where the identified areas for action tie in with nationally and internationally recognised standards of sustainability and reporting – in particular with the guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the German Sustainability Code (DNK).

Furthermore, information on this website is based on internationally recognised standards for sustainability management and for social responsibility of organisations, such as the principles of the United Nations Global Compact and the principles and areas for action of the international standard ISO 26000.

Sustainability reporting standards

Standards of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
The GRI standards are the world's most widely recognised sustainability reporting standards, and are currently used by more than 5,000 companies and organisations in over 70 countries. This comprehensive set of relevant aspects and indicators was developed in a multi-stakeholder approach and published in its current edition (GRI G4) in 2013. Some sectors even have specific supplements of their own (sector guidance). This is not the case for research organisations.

German Sustainability Code (DNK)
The Sustainability Code was developed in 2011 by the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) with the aim of making the sustainability performance of German companies more transparent and comparable. It contains 20 transparency criteria to which voluntarily participating companies and organisations submit an annual declaration of conformity.

International standards for the social responsibility of organisations

UN Global Compact 
With more than 10,000 participating companies and organisations, the strategic initiative of the United Nations is the world's largest international network on sustainability. Members commit to upholding and promoting ten universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour standards, environmental protection, and anti-corruption.

ISO 26000
This non-certifiable ISO standard was developed in an international multi-stakeholder process and describes principles and areas for action within the core topics of human rights, environmental protection, labour standards, anti-corruption, consumer interests, and development and community involvement. It also provides recommendations for actions by which organisations should fulfil their social responsibility in the respective core areas.

Further information

Global Reporting Initiative: "The GRI Standards: the global standards for sustainability reporting"
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Deutscher Nachhaltigkeitskodex: "The Sustainability Code: guidance for sustainable development"
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United Nations: The Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact
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DIN Deutsches Institut für Normung e.V. (2010): Guidance on social responsibility (ISO 26000:2010)