In German common parlance people often speak of ‘the’ (in-house) Environmental Protection Officer, but there is no such thing, at least not according to the law.
Concrete efforts were made in 2007-2008 to introduce an Environmental Protection Officer (in the course of the planned introduction of an environmental code) but the overall project failed and with it an explicit provision for an Environmental Protection Officer. Currently, there are no concrete plans to introduce the role.
So what is meant by the Environmental Protection Officer? Some laws explicitly provide for various company officers to be appointed and some of these officers perform tasks that are related to environmental protection. These include, for example, the emission control officer (under the Federal Emission Control Act), the water protection officer (Water Resources Act) or the waste management officer (Recycling Management Act).
Particularly in larger companies, it may be a legal requirement to appoint an emission control officer, a water protection officer and a waste officer. If this is the case, it may make sense from a practical point of view to combine these functions as one person’s job. The law explicitly allows for such a bundling of functions. If a person performs these combined duties and acts as a contact person for all these issues, they are usually referred to as the ‘Environmental Protection Officer’.
In addition, it is also conceivable that employers (in an effort to tackle the ongoing challenge of environmental protection) appoint an individual to cover all these functions on a voluntary basis, which could also be viewed as appointing an ‘Environmental Protection Officer’. If, for example, the organisation is only required by law to appoint an emissions control officer, but chooses to assign the tasks of a water protection and/or waste management officer to this officer of its own accord (without any legal obligation), it can do so, combining all these functions in the job description for one person. From a legal point of view, however, it is important to clarify that the voluntary creation of an Environmental Protection Officer role is not an official ‘appointment’ for the purposes of the Recycling Management Act or the Water Resources Act.
If a person is appointed Environmental Protection Officer, s/he performs the combined tasks assigned to him or her by law in his or her functions as the Emission Protection Officer, the Waste Protection Officer and the Water Protection Officer and acts as a central contact person. What exactly these tasks are is set out in the relevant Act. The Environmental Protection Officer must be appointed in writing, and his or her tasks must be precisely described.
If an in-house Environmental Protection Officer performs emission control officer, water protection officer or waste officer duties (and not only by voluntarily extending duties), s/he is also entitled to special protection against dismissal. This means that during the term of office as well as one year after the dismissal, the employer can only dismiss the officer or former officer using the extraordinary termination mechanism.
‘The’ company Environmental Protection Officer does not actually exist. The term ‘Environmental Protection Officer’ usually refers to a person who takes on the environmental protection-related tasks of various company officers for a company. The hope is that this puts environmental issues at the heart of governance and gives them appropriate priority. It will depend on the facts and individual circumstances whether this approach makes sense for an organisation.
If an organisation decides to appoint an ‘Environmental Protection Officer’, it’s important to keep sight of his or her individual assignments and their associated legal requirements under the Federal Emission Control Act, Water Resources Act and Recycling Management Act. Organisations should draw up sufficiently clear regulations defining the role and responsibilities, as ultimately, these create a binding legal framework.
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