Our mission obliges us to sustainability

The RAG-Stiftung finances the perpetual obligations of the German coal mining industry and, with its support activities, also is a driver in the renewal of former mining regions. This is sustainability at its best. In a joint interview, the Board of Executives of the RAG-Stiftung talks about this topic as well as other focal points in 2021.

The Board of Executives of the RAG-Stiftung bears responsibility for the strategic direction and operational management of the foundation’s activities. Innovation plays an important role in fulfilling the foundations mission as well as in the renewal of the region. This is reason enough for the foundation to take on new challenges and to initiate innovations – for example with BRYCK, the innovation hub and future factory initiated by the RAG-Stiftung in the middle of the Essen city centre.

We are here in the BRYCK Tower in Essen, a new innovation hub and future factory which was initiated by the RAG-Stiftung. What role do innovations play for the RAG-Stiftung?

BERND TÖNJES: Innovations are the engine of our economy. That goes for Germany as a whole, for North Rhine-Westphalia and for the Ruhr region. Innovations are important for the RAG-Stiftung because they allow us – in addition to fulfilling our original mission of financing perpetual obligations – to also drive the transformation of our home region. For example, there are 290,000 university students in the Ruhr region. If we manage to excite even just one per cent of them for start-ups through BRYCK, then that would mean around 3000 companies being founded here. And that is precisely what the Ruhr region needs: new, innovative companies that turn digitalisation and sustainability into a reality.

BÄRBEL BERGERHOFF-WODOPIA: Innovations are often based on findings from the scientific community; since its founding, the RAG-Stiftung has supported cutting-edge research on the Ruhr and Saar rivers. The Technische Hochschule Georg Agricola (THGA) and its Forschungszentrum Nachbergbau (Research Center of Post-Mining/FZN), which we co-founded in 2015, are considered exemplary institutions with an excellent reputation. The latter conducts research to find solutions to the challenges of the post-mining era – for example for pit water management, polder measures and groundwater purification. Cutting edge 3D technologies are used to this end, along with drones, thermal imaging cameras and sensors. The RAG-Stiftung therefore not only supports but also drives innovation.

What do innovations have to do with the investments of the RAG-Stiftung? You could rely purely on conservative values, thus taking the safe route.

Dr JÜRGEN RUPP: We do both. But we also always assess which business models are sustainable. Does a company offer a unique selling point? Do they have successful processes? Do they do business in a future market? Those are all factors that guide us when making investment decisions. We also invest in companies that are developing and not relying solely on what exists already. In a competitive environment, only those who seek to innovate can develop themselves further – for example in the fields of automation and robotics, communication and information technology, but also regarding topics to do with urbanisation, health and the development of technologies such as chip production. Those are topics that are forward-looking, that have their fingers on the pulse of the times – and we primarily invest in companies like that.

‘On a planet with limited resources, we are forced to address the topic of sustainability. For the RAG-Stiftung, all three pillars – economic, ecological and social sustainability – are equally relevant.’
Bernd Tönjes
In next to no time, the war in Ukraine put the entire world in a state of emergency. What do you think of the situation, both personally as well as in your respective roles with the RAG-Stiftung?
BERND TÖNJES: After 75 years of peace, it seemed unthinkable that we would experience an active war of aggression in Europe ever again – especially for the generation that has never experienced a war. The world order changed on 24 February. Since then, many truths no longer apply. For example, our energy supply must be put on an entirely new foundation, so we are dealing with a historical turning point. Nevertheless, I still hope for a diplomatic solution.
BÄRBEL BERGERHOFF-WODOPIA: I’m saddened by the suffering of the people: the refugees, the injured and the dead, this senseless violence. It’s especially hard for the refugee children. This is why the RAG-Stiftung initiated a special budget of two million euros intended to help the refugees, and the youngest of them in particular. The war won’t be without consequences for Germany, either. Solidarity is the order of the day.
Dr JÜRGEN RUPP: People are dying right in the middle of Europe – that is deeply troubling for us. The war is also shaking up the financial markets, of course. We are very carefully analysing what is happening, because the RAG-Stiftung is responsible for providing the funds to over the perpetual costs. Our portfolio in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine is relatively small, but there could be indirect effects. We are keeping our eye on these developments and, if need be, we will take decisive action.

Innovations should mean progress for people and society, not least when it comes to sustainability. We find ourselves in the middle of a major transformation: our economic system has to be made environmentally friendly. What does sustainability mean for the RAG-Stiftung?

BERND TÖNJES: Our planet has only limited resources, and yet the population continues to grow. This forces us to address the topic of sustainability. For the RAG-Stiftung, there are three pillars of equal importance.
From an ecological perspective, we have to protect the environment in a post-mining context, for example by not allowing rising pit water to endanger drinking water. The second pillar, the economy, is also important, because we have to be able to pay for the perpetual costs of post-mining each year. We bore these perpetual costs for the first time in 2019. Over the long term, we will ensure that the taxpayers do not bear this burden. And the third pillar of sustainability, the social aspect, is of great importance to us: we ended coal mining in Germany in a socially acceptable way. We also deal intensively with the subject of social justice via our educational projects. After all, without education, there can be no self-determination. And, considering the shortage of skilled workers, we can’t afford to leave any talented individuals behind.

Ms Bergerhoff-Wodopia, you are responsible for the support of education, science and culture. What does social sustainability mean to you?

BÄRBEL BERGERHOFF-WODOPIA: Education and social responsibility are part of the DNA of the RAG-Stiftung: we support young children and adolescents throughout their entire education, and accompany them from kindergarten to their apprenticeship or university degree programme. In doing so, we place particular focus on disadvantaged families. It’s important to us to enable children and adolescents to finish their academic careers with a good school-leaving certificate. And we have had great success. Our projects are exemplary in nature and have even been taken on by the state government and spread beyond the Ruhr region, for example our RuhrTalente scholarship programme for pupils. At the moment, we are working on a new project focused on adolescents in vocational schools. A study we supported showed that many of these adolescents leave their vocational school without having sufficient skills that are in demand on the labour market. With our project, we want to help them not only earn their qualification but also be prepared for the IT requirements of their apprenticeships and careers. That is sustainability par excellence.

‘Social responsibility is part of the DNA of the RAG-Stiftung: We support children and adolescents from their early-childhood education through to their apprenticeship or degree programme, with a particular focus on disadvantaged families.’
Bärbel Bergerhoff-Wodopia

RAG-Stiftung couldn’t support projects like this if it didn’t generate solid returns. What does economic sustainability mean to you?

Dr JÜRGEN RUPP: We have to finance perpetual obligations. These are obligations that never end – they are taken on permanently. To a certain extent, our mission forces us to be sustainable; it is at the core of our responsibilities, which is why we only make investments that are sustainable in the best sense of the word. We can’t afford to invest in companies that put their business model at risk through social or ecological reasons. Take e-cigarettes, for instance. That would be a market we could invest in from a perspective of return on investment. But we decided against it, for ethical and moral reasons, as well as social aspects. We look for companies with prospects that serve society over the long term, because sustainability ultimately means talking about how a company shapes its own future.

Let’s take a look back at the 2021 financial year. Did you fulfil your criteria and achieve your goals?

Dr JÜRGEN RUPP: The year was very satisfactory. It was a year in which the foundation benefited from the global economic recovery on all fronts – and that in spite of the coronavirus pandemic. In the previous financial year, our foundation assets crossed the threshold of 20 billion euros. In 2021, we ended up at more than 21 billion euros. That means the foundation’s assets grew significantly and we completely fulfilled our mission. For the RAG-Stiftung, it is crucial that we continuously generate dividends, profit and interest that we can use to fulfil our obligations and reinvest any surplus funds. In 2021, we carried over 665 million euros to our provisions. Costs for the perpetual obligations amounted to 264 million euros. And we also served the second purpose of the foundation – the support area – as planned.

BERND TÖNJES: For us, 2021 was an outstanding year on the whole. We made a lot of progress in post-mining, completely filling in the last shafts in Ibbenbüren for example. The perpetual costs are trending downwards, and we expect this to continue, which means the burden for the RAG-Stiftung will be reduced over the long term. On the other hand, our investments were very successful, and this curve is picking up steam. The delta between the two lines is getting bigger – and therefore also our room to manoeuvre in the support area. If we fulfil our obligations as well as we did in 2021, then we want to give something back to the regions. We were thus able to successfully request an increased support budget from our Board of Trustees at the last meeting.

BÄRBEL BERGERHOFF-WODOPIA: I’m also very pleased about this development. We had a budget of 27 million euros in 2021, and this has increased to 32 million euros for 2022. In addition to education and science, we also promote cultural projects related to coal mining, for instance the miners’ choirs and orchestras. Additionally, we have financed the Ruhrfestspiele festival in Recklinghausen, the Ruhr Piano Festival and the RuhrTriennale Festival of Arts for many years – these are all internationally renowned festivals.

‘To achieve our objectives, we also invest in companies that are developing and not relying solely on what exists already. Only those who seek to innovate can develop themselves further.’
Dr Jürgen Rupp
Billion Euros
in foundation assets
at the end of 2021.

Last year, something happened that caused a lot of suffering in North Rhine-Westphalia in particular: the catastrophic floods. How did the RAG-Stiftung respond to this?

BERND TÖNJES: It was a catastrophe right on our front doorstep. Many people were affected, lost everything, were left with only what they had on their backs. Out of a sense of solidarity, which is firmly anchored in the mining culture, we reacted quickly and without red tape. Together with the WAZ and Caritas, we provided a million euros of immediate aid to alleviate the initial distress.

Now if we dare direct our gaze to the future: where will the RAG-Stiftung be in 2030?

BÄRBEL BERGERHOFF-WODOPIA: My hope is that the RAG-Stiftung will have made a decisive contribution to pupils coming from difficult circumstances having earned their school-leaving certificates and having completed their apprenticeships. And to ensuring that all adolescents in the Region who want to begin an apprenticeship or study programme are able to do so. The RAG-Stiftung would have thus done its part to secure skilled workers for the former mining regions. With regard to science, I’m confident that we will have repositioned the FZN by then and launched it as a transformation centre for geo-resources and ecology. Regarding cultural aspects, I hope that we can significantly increase the radiance of the districts with projects like Manifesta.

Million Euros
were allocated to the support budget for education, science and culture. For next year, the budget has been increased to 32 million euros.
Million Euros
were carried over to the provisions of the RAG-Stiftung in 2021.
Million Euros
were allocated to the so-called perpetual obligations in 2021, a downwards trend.

Where will the perpetual costs be by then?

Dr JÜRGEN RUPP: There shouldn’t be any surprises there, because that involves activities that have been around for centuries – primarily pumping water. We are familiar with the cost development. But we will use research and new technologies and methods to further optimise these tasks in order to, among other things, continue lowering costs. This will enable us to achieve our overall objective while contributing to the ecological renewal of the former mining regions at the same time.

BERND TÖNJES: As long as nothing entirely unforeseen happens, post-mining costs will decrease significantly by 2030 and our income will continue to gradually increase. This results in financial flexibility for us that we can utilise in our support areas and in the continued transformation of the Ruhr region. And with regard to the BRYCK Tower, where we are sitting today, I expect this ecosystem to work, resulting in a productive atmosphere and bustling life over the next ten years. I hope for successful companies that create attractive jobs so that university graduates see a future for themselves here, thereby enriching the former mining areas, rather than leaving to live and work in other regions. The Ruhr region is one of opportunities – of that I am sure. We at the RAG-Stiftung will do everything in our power to demonstrate that in the ten years to come.

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Developing solutions with science
As part of the MuSE project, the FZN is optimising water management in the former mining regions.
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The topic of integration is inextricably linked with coal mining – as exemplified by the special exhibition ‘Wir sind von hier’ with photographs by Ergun Çağatay.
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