The SDGs are our yardstick
Michael Beier, Chairman of the of the Heinz Sielmann Foundation talks about Fridays for Future and the importance of foundations for fighting climate change.
Stiftungswelt: Mr Beier, the Fridays for Future movement has put climate protection on top of the agenda. How can German foundations address this issue?
Michael Beier: The climate change has to be counteracted immediately at all levels of society. The young people's protest is not only justified, it is absolutely necessary. The foundation sector bears a special responsibility in the fight against the climate crisis. Less than 5% of the more than 22,000 foundations have climate protection as their foundation’s purpose. With a known total of capital of around EUR 68 billion, German foundations play a major role in shaping the society. It is in the nature of foundations that they work with a long-term perspective and thus for the future. The challenge is to integrate measures to fight climate change as well as sustainability goals into the day-to-day work of foundations. Other areas of work, such as digitisation, fundraising or investment, have to be geared towards being sustainable, socially acceptable and preserving natural resources.
How does your foundation work on its own sustainability?
Sustainability reports in accordance with the guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI Standard) have been mandatory for companies with more than 500 employees throughout Europe since 2017. However, no corresponding obligation to submit a report has yet been implemented for foundations. From our point of view, in the process of the planned reform of the foundation law, an obligation to submit reports on sustainability and corporate social responsibility is urgently required in addition to an obligation of public disclosure in order to maintain trust in the foundation sector and its credibility. The Heinz Sielmann Foundation voluntarily published such reports in 2016 and 2018.
In doing so, what is the significance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for you?
For us, the SDGs are the yardstick for our own actions. On this basis, we decided to implement the environmental management system (EMAS) and the ISO 14001 standard for our work. The procurement guidelines of the Heinz Sielmann Foundation take into account aspects of sustainability. For example, the energy supply at three locations was completely changed over to renewable energy. In the short term, the vehicle fleet will be equipped with cars that meet the EURO-6d-Temp emissions standard. Offers of job bicycles and job tickets make it easier for employees to travel to work in a climate-friendly way.
For us, the topics of ecology, economy and social issues are always a harmonious triad. Even foundations whose purpose does not obviously have anything to do with nature and the environment can and should become active in this sense. The investment strategy for capital is another area in which foundations should assume responsibility for our environment. With the foundation's own Nature Conservation Fund Germany, we focus on sustainable capital investment. It is based on global sustainable bond and equity indices. Since its inception, the fund has shown above-average performance. As a foundation fund, it is open to 99 further charitable foundations.
The foundation has been working in the field of nature and species conservation for 25 years. How can you effectively address the younger generations today?
We address all generations in a target group-oriented manner and have strengthened our presence in social networks. Our website has consequently been converted to “mobile first” and topics are tailored to the respective channels. This not only happens virtually in the internet, but above all through personal contact and direct experience in the context of our environmental education offers. After all, no photo on Instagram can replace the real experience, for instance, of the heather’s blossom in the sunset or a living bison. But it can make you want to go out into nature and have a closer look at flora and fauna. In our nature experience centres Gut Herbigshagen near Duderstadt and Wanninchen south of Berlin, we offer people the opportunity to do exactly this.
What role does your engagement centre play for the future development?
We show ways to set standards for sustainability and to do good. For us as a foundation, the centre means that we provide clear services ranging from biotope modules to endowments. The long-term contact and the shared goal also enable us to look to the future together with our donors, including inheritance marketing and estate management. I am convinced that this transparency will continue to be reflected in a lasting relationship of trust in our foundation's work. The seal of the German Central Institute for Social Issues and the donation certificate we have received from the German Donation Council show that we are on the right track.
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, together with prominent philanthropists, has founded the Earth Alliance to make an even greater impact on climate protection. Could you imagine such a multi-actor partnership for your foundation?
In accordance with SDG 13 “Climate Action” and SDG 17 “Partnerships to Achieve the Goals”, the Heinz Sielmann Foundation, together with other foundations and stakeholders, is committed to promoting biological diversity internationally. In 2018, we were the first German non-governmental organisation to become a technical partner of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) for the reforestation of 100 million hectares of land on the African continent. The Foundation's own reforestation projects in Ethiopia and Uganda with local partners are an example of this. The Foundation is also one of the founders of the Platform F20, a global alliance of foundations. The alliance considers itself a bridge between civil society, politics, business and science in order to fulfil the UN's sustainability goals. If the networks match the purpose of our foundation and its existing projects, then they generate added value for the foundation. At the same time, our own role must remain visible. On these conditions, the Heinz Sielmann Foundation is always open for cooperations on a national or international level.
Are you successful with this approach?
Our foundation implements concrete projects throughout Germany and internationally. The practical testing of pilot projects and the development of best-practice examples are the key to the implementation of the SDGs. These modules lead to systemic changes because they generate forces that in turn trigger changes in the political landscape. The example of the Lake Constance biotope network shows that we are successful in this. Over the past 15 years, 131 biotope modules have been created at 44 locations in cooperation with cities administrations and municipalities. This is a great success for the preservation of biological diversity in our intensively used cultural landscape. The bird monitoring at the Heinz Sielmann Pond near Billafingen in the Lake Constance district shows the effect of this commitment. After the establishment of the five-hectare pond, the number of bird species observed has risen to 181 to date, 14 of which have even become new breeding birds. Further biotope networks, for example in Ravensburg and north-eastern Bavaria, will follow and be established according to this formula for success.