Connecting SMEs for a green economy

The German Sustainability Code

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The German Sustainability Code (GSC) provides a common set of criteria for companies to showcase and compare their sustainability performance in a similar format (GSC declaration of conformity). It is a simple list of 20 criteria, which companies are invited to use when self-reporting.

It was first adopted by the German Council for Sustainable Development in October 2011, and updated in August 2014. The EU recognizes it as a valid standard for non-financial reporting.


The target group of the GSC is very broad:

“The German Council for Sustainable Development recommends that, regardless of their size and sector, all production and commercial companies, service enterprises, all organizations, foundations, NGOs, trade unions, universities, scientific organizations and the media apply the Sustainability Code as a means of voluntarily disclosing information to interested members of the public. This also applies to publicly owned companies.”

(GSC website)

Companies of all sizes are invited to use the Code, which means that SMEs may also benefit from this reporting tool.


“The benefit of the Code lies in its compressed and user-friendly form that offers companies of all sizes a framework they can use to report on their own sustainability management system.”

(GSC website)

For small businesses, a GSC declaration of conformity is a standardized document that may make them more appealing to financial institutions, and therefore more likely to receive funding. In addition, it allows them to demonstrate their environmental performance to clients in a transparent way.

Process of tool application

The GSC is a straightforward tool. The Code provides a list of 20 criteria, divided in four categories.

1. Strategic analysis and action
2. Materiality
3. Objectives
4. Depth of the value chain.

Process Management
5. Responsibility
6. Rules and processes
7. Control
8. Incentive systems
9. Stakeholder engagement
10. Innovation and product management

11. Usage of natural resources
12. Resource management
13. Climate-relevant emissions

14. Employment rights
15. Equal opportunities
16. Qualifications
17. Human rights
18. Corporate citizenship
19. Political influence
20. Conduct that complies with the law and policy

Each criterion consists of a clear self-reporting task, to be completed by the company. For example, Criteria 12 “Resource Management” appears as follows:

"12. Resource Management: The company discloses what qualitative and quantitative goals it has set itself with regard to its resource efficiency, its use of renewables, the increase in raw material productivity and the reduction in the usage of ecosystem services, and how these goals have been met or will be met in the future."

For each criterion, companies must either describe how they comply or why they failed to comply. Whenever possible, companies should include quantitative indicators in order to facilitate comparison.  These explanations are then gathered in a summary declaration.

Companies may create their declaration of conformity directly online, through the use of a corporate profile on the German Council for Sustainable Development’s website. Instructions to use this online tool are described in a manual.

All declarations of conformity are compiled in the GSC Database. As of September 2014, the database contained declarations from companies registered in Germany, Finland and Sweden.