The DBU funds innovative, exemplary and solution-oriented projects for the protection of the environment, with special consideration of small and medium-sized enterprises. The funding activities focus on environmental technology and research, nature conservation, environmental communication and protection of cultural assets.
Since 1991, the DBU has funded nearly 9,700 projects with € 1.74 billion. At the same time, the foundation capital (€ 1.28 billion at the beginning) was increased to around € 2.24 billion.
Funded projects should achieve sustainable effects in practice, give impulses and lead to a “multiplier effect”. It is the objective of the DBU to contribute to the solution of current environmental problems, in particular, which result from unsustainable business practices and lifestyles. The DBU sees the crucial challenges primarily in the areas of climate change, biodiversity loss, unsustainable use of natural resources, and harmful emissions. The funding topics are linked both to current scientific findings on the Planetary Boundaries and to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
The DBU is chaired by the Board of Trustees whose members are appointed by the Federal Government. It is composed of federal and state politicians as well as representatives of other socially relevant groups.
The branch office in Osnabrück is headed by Secretary General Alexander Bonde since February 2018. He represents the Board of Trustees in current business and is responsible for carrying out the foundation's work. His predecessors were Dr. Heinrich Bottermann from October 2013 to June 2017 and Dr.-Ing. E.h. Fritz Brickwedde from 1991 to September 2013.
Every year the DBU awards the German Environmental Award, the most lucrative (500,000 €) environmental prize in Europe.
In 1989 the Federal Cabinet approved the proposal of the then Minister of Finance Dr. Theo Waigel to use the proceeds from the privatization of the federally owned steel company Salzgitter AG for an environmental foundation. The sales revenue of € 1.28 billion constitutes the foundation capital; the yearly income from its assets is used for the funding activities.
The law on the establishment of the public foundation DBU with legal capacity under civil law was passed with a broad political consensus in 1990. The statutes for the DBU designate Osnabrück as the location of the branch office. In addition, the statutes regulate the structure of the foundation, its tasks in the individual functional areas, the procedure and asset management. As a rule, DBU should work outside the scope of other governmental funding programs, but may complement them.