Sustainability in raw material extraction

As far back as 2002 the German Government presented the first national strategy for sustainability and has developed this further every four years since 2004 1 When updating its sustainability strategy in 2021 the Federal Government underlines the guiding principle of following sustainable development and “meeting the needs of both the present and future generations – in Germany and in all parts of the world – and making it possible for them to live life to its full and with dignity”. The aim is to achieve a progressive, innovative and open Germany in which it is worth living, in a country that is characterised by high quality of life, effective environmental protection, inclusive and integrative policymaking and fulfilment of its international responsibilities. This objective has again been confirmed for the natural resources sector in the strategy for natural resources2 passed by the Federal Government in January 2020. Since Germany is one of the world’s leading  technology hubs as well as an exporting nation, it depends on a reliable supply of natural resources.

With this is the responsibility to advocate for a sustainable and socially and ecologically responsible use of natural resources. Therefore, the Federal Government has set itself the goal of reducing the consumption of primary natural resources and closing material cycles. To achieve these goals, the circular economy is to be significantly strengthened as a pillar of the natural resources strategy and a national circular economy strategy is to be developed by the beginning of 2024. Both strategies should be closely interlinked for this purpose.

The 2030 Agenda, which was adopted by the United Nations in 2015 and on which the German sustainability strategy is based, sets out 17 objectives for sustainable development in the areas of the environment, social affairs and the economy. Germany uses it as a “compass (…) for all policy areas” 3 and thus also for the extraction of natural resources.

“Sustainable development” means balancing out as far as possible environmental, social and economic challenges throughout all the different value chains in the extractive sectors. In this chapter, some important contributions are discussed in this regard. Besides reference is made to various sustainability reports by public, civil society and private sector stakeholders.

1 Federal Government (2021): German sustainability strategy. Update 2021: URL: 3b15cd92d0261e7a0bcdc8f43b7839/deutsche-nachhaltigkeitsstrategie-2021-langfassung-download-bpa-data.pdf, S. 15 [Accessed on 25 November 2021].

2 Natural Resource Strategy of the Federal Government

3 Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Natural Resources and Development Sector Programme (2021): Agenda 2030 – Sustainable Development Goals. URL: [Accessed on 25 November 2021].


In Federal States in which legislation does not include an excavation law and the State-level Nature Conservation Law does not apply to the extraction of non-energetic, ground-based natural resources in the context of dry excavations, this type of natural resource extraction falls within the scope of the relevant state building regulations.

Legal limitations also exist: State building regulations apply to the excavation of solid rock (limestone, basalt, etc.), for example, in quarries with an area of up to 10 hectares (ha) in which no blasting is carried out. In the event that this area is exceeded, or if water bodies are formed after completion of the extraction operations, the German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) and/or Water Resources Act (WHG) are applicable.
In Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, the above-ground excavation of non-energetic, ground-based natural resources in the context of dry excavations is determined at state level by the existing excavation laws (AbgrG). For the excavation of solid rock (limestone, basalt, etc.) in quarries where blasting does not occur, the AbgrG applies to sites with an area of up to 10 ha. In the event that this area is exceeded, or if water bodies are formed after completion of the extraction operations, the German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) and/or Water Resources Act (WHG) are applicable. In the other Federal States, this type of natural resources extraction is regulated by the respective state building regulations or by the state-level nature conservation laws.

In general, the AbgrG applies to those raw materials the excavation of which is not directly subject to mining law or the mining authorities. These raw materials include (in particular) gravel, sand, clay, loam, limestone, dolomite and other rocks, bog mud and clays. However, the jurisdiction between AbgrG and mining law can vary from case to case in the case of certain raw materials, such as quartz gravels. The requested authority must always verify its own jurisdiction in each case. The AbgrG also encompasses surface area usage and the subsequent rehabilitation of the area.
The German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) is the most important and practice-relevant law in the field of environmental law. It constitutes the basis for the approval of industrial and commercial installations. In the natural resources extraction industry, quarrying companies must have approval to extract stones and earth. Every quarrying area of 10 hectares or more must undergo a full approval procedure, including public participation and UVP (environmental impact assessment). A more simplified approval procedure is used for quarrying areas of less than 10 hectares.

The sphere of responsibility for the legal immission control approval procedure is fully specified in the Immission Control Acts of the Federal States. The Federal States are tasked with the administrative enforcement of the approval procedure. Each individual state’s Environment Ministry – the highest local immission protection authority – usually bears the responsibility for this procedure. Subordinate authorities include regional councils, district authorities and lower-level administrative authorities. Administrative jurisdiction generally lies with the lower-level administrative authorities.
The GDP measures the value of goods and services produced domestically (creation of value) within a given period (quarter, year). The Federal Office of Statistics calculates the GDP as follows: production value minus intermediate consumption = the gross value added; plus taxes on products and minus subsidies = GDP
The gross value added is calculated by deducting intermediate consumption from the production values, so it only includes the value added created during the production process. The gross value added is valued at manufacturing prices, i.e. without the taxes due (product taxes), but including the product subsidies received.

During the transition from gross value added (at manufacturing prices) to GDP, the net taxes (product taxes less product subsidies) are added globally to arrive at an assessment of the GDP at market prices’. Source: Destatis
The planning approval procedure under mining law is used for the approval procedure of a general operating plan for projects which require an environmental impact assessment (§§ 52(2a), in conjunction with 57 a of the BBergG).
There are different definitions and methodological approaches at the international as well as at the national level as to what subsidies are and how they are calculated. According to the definition of the German government’s subsidy report, this report considers federal subsidies for private companies and economic sectors (ie grants as cash payments and tax breaks as special tax exemptions) which are relevant to the budget. Subsidies at the federal level can be viewed via the subsidy reports of the federal states (see Appendix 5 of the German government subsidy report).
In compliance with § 68(1), Water Resources Act (WHG), the excavation of landowners’ natural resources such as gravel, sand, marl, clay, loam, peat and stone in wet extraction operations requires a planning approval procedure. The reason for this is that groundwater is exposed in wet extraction, resulting in above-ground water. The planning approval procedure is implemented by lower-level water authorities.

The procedural steps of the planning approval procedure are governed by the general provisions of §§ 72 to 78 of the Administrative Procedures Act (VerwVfG). Within the meaning of § 68(3), nos. 1 and 2 of the WHG, the plan may only be established or approved if an impairment of the common good is not to be expected and other requirements of the WHG as well as other public-law provisions are fulfilled.