Sustainability in raw material extraction

Latest Update: November 2023

The Federal Government presented the first national sustainability strategy in 2002 and has updated it every four years since 2004.1 In the update of the German Sustainable Development Strategy (DNS) for 2021, the Federal Government emphasises that “the promotion of sustainable development is the fundamental goal and benchmark of government action” in order to “meet the needs of present and future generations – in Germany and in all parts of the world – and to enable them to lead a life in full development of their dignity”. The goal is a progressive, innovative, open and liveable Germany that lives up to its international responsibilities and is characterised by a high quality of life, effective environmental protection and inclusive and integrative policymaking.2,3
In the new version of the German Sustainable Development Strategy of 2016, specific implementation measures were defined for each of the 17 sustainability goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda, which have been updated with the German Sustainable Development Strategy of 2021. Germany will use these implementation guidelines as a “compass (…) for all policy areas”4, including the extraction of natural resources. An update of the German Sustainable Development Strategy is planned by the end of 2024, involving relevant stakeholders and citizens.
For the natural resources sector, the goal of the German Sustainable Development Strategy was reaffirmed in the natural resources strategy5 adopted by the Federal Government in January 2020 and in the key points6 presented by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action in January 2023 to further concretise the strategy. Germany is one of the world’s leading technology locations and, as an exporting nation, depends on a reliable supply of natural resources. Against the backdrop of the climate goals of the Paris Agreement and the associated double transformation of energy transition and digitalisation, primary resource consumption in Germany is even expected to increase in the coming years (see Effects of energy transition and the structural change and Security of supply).

This entails a responsibility to promote the efficient and sustainable use of natural resources in a manner that is environmentally and socially responsible. The German government has therefore set itself the goal of reducing the consumption of primary raw materials and closing material cycles. To achieve these goals, the circular economy will be significantly strengthened as a pillar of the natural resources strategy and a national circular economy strategy will be developed by early 2024. Both strategies should be closely interlinked (see The circular economy, in particular recycling).

The German Sustainability Strategy is based on a holistic, integrative approach: Sustainable solutions can only be achieved in the long term if the interactions between the three dimensions of sustainability – ecology, economy and social issues – are taken into account. The strategy aims to achieve economically efficient, socially equitable and ecologically sustainable development, with the planetary boundaries of our planet and the goal of a life in dignity for all as the absolute guidelines for policy decisions. This also applies to the various value chains in the extractive industries. This section highlights some important contributions in this respect, and also refers to various sustainability reports by public, civil society and private actors.

The section on Managing human intervention in nature and landscape explains the legal framework in Germany with regard to human interventions in nature and landscape. It also contains information on compensatory measures and payments, provisions and implementation securities from extractive companies for the restoration/rehabilitation of former mining areas and water abstraction fees.

Environmental Protection, Renaturation, Recultivation additionally describes for the various extractive sectors which aspects are important for the rehabilitation of former mining regions and areas in Germany and which legal principles apply in this respect.

The section on Employment and Social Affairs covers the area of employment and the legal provisions for the social protection of employees in the extractive industries in Germany. The diversity and equal opportunities section focuses on gender equality. The importance of co-determination and cooperation between employee representatives and employers as part of the German social partnership is discussed. Information is also provided on measures to mitigate the loss of jobs resulting from the end of the extraction and use of fossil fuels for electricity generation.
The “Corporate responsibility” section includes references to areas such as private sector initiatives for greater sustainability and appropriate collaborative agreements with civil society. In addition, the current legal situation regarding sustainability reporting is presented.

The circular economy, in particular recycling examines the status of Germany’s efforts to use resources efficiently and economically. As Germany is highly dependent on imports of natural resources, this is an area with great potential for innovation.

1 Federal Government (2021): German Sustainability Strategy. Update 2021. URL: 1875176/3d3b15cd92d0261e7a0bcdc8f43b7839/deutsche-nachhaltigkeitsstrategie-2021-langfassung-download-bpa-data.pdf Page 15 (Accessed on 11 September 2023).

2Ibid p. 14 et seq.

3Ibid p. 225

4German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (2021). Sector Programme Extractives and Development: Agenda 2030 –Sustainable Development Goals. URL: (Accessed on 25 November 2021).

5Federal Government (2020): Rohstoffstrategie der Bundesregierung. Sicherung einer nachhaltigen Rohstoffversorgung Deutschlands mit nichtenergetischen mineralischen Rohstoffen (The Federal Government’s natural resources strategy. Securing a sustainable supply of non-energy mineral raw materials for Germany). URL: blob=publicationFile&v=4 (Accessed on 11 September 2023).

6German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (2023) Eckpunktepapier Wege zu einer nachhaltigen und resilienten Rohstoffversorgung (Key issues: Pathways to a sustainable and resilient resource supply) URL: (Accessed on 1 September 2023).


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.