Who We Are & What We Do

Urgewald is a non-profit environmental and human rights organization. It is based in Sassenberg, a small town in western Germany. In addition, it has a 2nd office in Berlin. For 25 years, Urgewald has been fighting against environmental destruction and for the rights of people harmed by corporate profit interests. During these 25 years, Urgewald has evolved from a small group of people to a powerful organization. 

How To Win Campaigns? An Example:

Urgewald’s strategies for winning campaigns have developed during the last 2 decades. First of all, we follow the money. Our campaign to convince the Norwegian Government Pension Fund to get out of all major coal investments shows how we do it. An in-depth understanding of the worldwide coal industry was central for our strategy. 

As a first step, we researched and wrote a report on Norway’s Pension Fund’s coal investments. Next, with the support of Norwegian environmental organizations, we started a round of talks with Norway’s parliament and the Fund’s management. Urgewald asked Norway’s parliament to divest all climate-damaging coal holdings. But, all these actions did not sway the decision makers. 

We realized that we needed to put more pressure on Norway’s politicians and the Fund’s investment managers. Therefore, we brought people whose lives had been negatively affected by coal to Oslo. They came from China, Colombia, the Philippines, USA and South Africa. In public meetings, they described how coal destroys peoples’ lives, their health, the environment and climate. Finally, the pressure tipped the balance in our favour. The Norwegian parliament decided to do the right thing. It rewrote the Fund’s guidelines as Urgewald had proposed.

Our campaign on the Norwegian Government Pension Fund's coal investments incorporated all important elements for winning campaigns, including strong research, political pressure, lobbying and emotional confrontation with corporate destruction.

One Thing Leads To Another

As Urgewald continued to talk to banks and investors, it became clear that it had to come up with more detailed information about the worldwide coal industry. We started working on a database to provide key statistics on coal. Altogether, 25 NGO-experts, volunteers and contract researchers spent 2 years researching to produce the Global Coal Exit List. The List covers about 800 coal companies worldwide. It includes information on the coal content of each company’s business, its coal expansion plans and the countries where coal activities are located. Investment giants such as AXA and Generali are already using Urgewald’s Global Coal Exit List to make investment decisions.

What Does Urgewald Mean?

Our organization’s name Urgewald combines two words: ‘Urgewalt’, which means elemental force and ‘Urwald’, which is an older word for rainforest. The name reflects our fight against the destruction of the tropical rainforest. This is where Urgewald had its origin. 

In 2017 Urgewald published the Global Coal Exit List, a database on the global coal industry, during UN climate summit in Bonn. This List is the 1st comprehensive coal divestment tool worldwide for investors, banks and insurance companies.

Urgewald’s Major Successes

1989        

Published Rainforest Memorandum which documented Germany’s role in rainforest destruction. Moved over 1,200 municipalities in Germany to stop using tropical timber in municipal building projects.

1994         

Urgewald founder Heffa Schuecking won Goldman Environmental Prize.

2000        

Prevented fundings for Maheshwar Dam and resettlement of 50,000 people in India.

2007         

Stopped 15 international banks in a months-long campaign from financing nuclear power plant Belene in Bulgarian earthquake region. These included Citibank, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and UniCredit.

2010        

Kept mining giant Vedanta from setting up poisonous bauxite mine in Niyamgiri, India.

2011      

 Shamed Deutsche Bank into stopping investments in cluster bombs.

2012      

 Achieved final stop to nuclear plant Belene, Bulgaria, by convincing last big financier, German energy giant RWE (2009), and finally also government of Bulgaria to bury the project.

2015        

Convinced Norway’s sovereign pension fund, one of the biggest worldwide, to divest from major coal holdings.     

Persuaded Allianz, the world’s no. 2 insurance company, to divest from coal holdings.

2016        

Convinced Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, no. 1 and 2 in Germany, to blacklist all major mountaintop removal mining companies.

2017        

Pushed Bayerische Landesbank, state-owned bank of Bavaria, to cancel further funding for highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in the USA.

Published Global Coal Exit List, a database on the global coal industry, during UN climate summit in Bonn. This List is the 1st comprehensive coal divestment tool worldwide for investors, banks and insurance companies.

Persuaded French company AXA, world’s 3rd biggest insurance company, to use Global Coal Exit List for its new climate strategy. AXA’s coal divestment came to EUR 2.4 billion.

2018        

Convinced Italian insurance group Generali to use Urgewald’s Global Coal Exit List for divestment. Generali reduced coal investments by EUR 2 billion. 

Urgewald founder Heffa Schuecking was granted Henry Arnhold Fellowship from US foundation Mulago.

Convinced Allianz, today the world’s biggest insurance company by assets, to no longer provide insurance for coal power plants or coal mines and to strengthen its coal divestment.

Pushed Munich Re, the world's second largest reinsurer, to announce cuts in its coal insurance business for the first time.

Convinced Generali to use Urgewald’s coal research also for excluding companies from insurance business.

Urgewald is a learning and discussing organization. All decisions on big campaign targets and strategies are made by the whole team.

The People Behind Urgewald

Urgewald is a learning and discussing organization. The 17 people who work for Urgewald are very diverse in personality, age and profession, yet united in their creativity and will to win. Most Urgewald staffers are active in running campaigns. Others work in fundraising, public relations and, of course, office management. Urgewald has a very flat hierarchy. Heffa Schuecking and Andrea Soth are the two directors. However, all decisions on big campaign targets and strategies are made by the whole team. On one hand, people work in fields where they are talented. On the other hand, staffers support each other wherever help is needed to win a campaign. 

Our Partners Worldwide

We network with organizations that do similar work in other countries in the following areas: 

  • Private Banks & Insurance Companies: Unfriend Coal, Banktrack, Re:Common, Les Amis de la Terre

  • Public Banks & Public Institutions: CEE Bankwatch, Counter Balance

  • Coal, Climate & Divestment: International Coal Network, Philippine Movement on Climate Justice, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Keeper of the Mountains, Climate Action Network, WWF Europe, 350.org, Market Forces, Ground Work, Kiko Network, Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace

  • Human Rights: Oxfam, Brot für die Welt, Misereor, WALHI, Both Ends, Bank Information Center Europe

  • Arms Industry & Arms Policy: ICAN, ECCHR

Urgewald often brings people affected by industrial projects worldwide to annual meetings of European companies. People like Branislav Kapetanovic, a Serbian mine sweeper who lost his arms and legs while searching for cluster ammunition, joined such an annual meeting.

Letting Peoples’ Voices Resonate

We always aim to give corporate and political decision makers a feeling of how decisions impact people. Urgewald often brings people affected by industrial projects worldwide to annual meetings of European companies. People like Branislav Kapetanovic, a Serbian mine sweeper who lost his arms and legs while searching for cluster ammunition, joined such an annual meeting. Together with Urgewald, he came to Deutsche Bank’s annual meeting to stop the bank from continuing to invest in cluster bombs. Branislav personally addressed Deutsche Bank’s CEO and told him and all present shareholders his story. He said to the CEO Josef Ackermann that he felt no bitterness. He knew what risks his work entailed, but the fact that the bank was making money with crippling children all over the world was making him angry and upset. Holding the CEO personally accountable helped to convince the bank to reduce their cluster bomb investments. In the course of this campaign, other banks also changed their cluster bomb policy.

Voices like Branislav's bring the impacts of corporate and political actions home to the people responsible. This is a powerful instrument to change the minds of decision makers.

Current Campaigns & Our Activities

  • Coal, Climate & Divestment:

Informing investors, banks and NGOs about how to use Global Coal Exit List.
Continuing research for our coal database.

Calling on European insurance companies to end support for coal:
Working together with partners from “Unfriend Coal” campaign.

Raising awareness about impacts of new Southern Gas Corridor pipeline. 
Lobbying to stop public and private banks from giving loans to pipeline projects.

  • Blood Coal

Doing research on coal supply chain of European utilities. 
Lobbying for human rights improvements in coal extraction regions of Colombia.

  • Arms Industry and Policies

Lobbying German politicians to stop arms exports to crisis regions.

Targeting German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall:
Doing research and informing politicians and German public about Rheinmetall violating export regulations.

  • World Bank, AIIB and other Multilateral Banks

Doing research on how funded projects impact environment and human rights. Talking with politicians and bank managers. Focusing on increasing transparency and setting up strong mechanisms to give people the right to object to harmful projects. 

  • Consumer Education Campaign

Going to trade fairs in Germany to inform public about private banks’ low ethical standards. These include loans and investments in controversial fields such as arms, coal and genetically modified farming.

More than 1,500 private donors regularly support Urgewald. To reach big campaign targets, we also need bigger sums on a regular basis. This is why we started our Major Giving Program.

Who Funds Us?

About 50% of our funds come from private donors and about 50% from national and international foundations and institutions. More than 1,500 private donors regularly support Urgewald. To reach big campaign targets, we also need bigger sums on a regular basis. This is why we started our Major Giving Program. In this program we focus on donors with higher potential. 

A list of our most important and recent foundation and institutional supporters:

  • J.C. Mott Foundation, USA 
  • Grassroots Foundation, Germany
  • Bewegungsstiftung, Germany
  • Rockefeller Brothers Fund, USA
  • European Climate Foundation
  • Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, USA
  • Sunrise Project, Australia 
  • Olin Foundation, Germany
  • Stiftung Umwelt und Entwicklung NRW, Germany
  • European Union
  • Misereor, Germany
  • Bread for the World, Germany

Our Ethical Guidelines for Handling Donations 

  • We don’t accept donations from the finance industry and companies that we are campaigning against. 
  • We check all donations starting at EUR 5,000 to ensure that they comply with our regulations.
  • We don’t accept donations from donors and institutions whose financial background or aims run counter to Urgewald's objectives and reputation. 

Kontakt

    Bild Anprechpartner   Moritz Schröder-Therre

    Moritz Schröder-Therre
    Pressesprecher
    moritz [at] urgewald.org
    +49 (0)2583/30492-19

→  Unser Team