Heinrich Freiherr (Baron) von Lersner has died

Founding president of Federal Environment Agency headed the agency from 1974 to 1995

Lersner introduced asbestos-free brake pads in 1981, which were awarded the Blue AngelClick to enlarge
Lersner introduced asbestos-free brake pads in 1981, which were awarded the Blue Angel
Source: Umweltbundesamt

The first President of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), Heinrich Freiherr (Baron) von Lersner died on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 in Berlin. Lersner, born on 14 July 1930 in Stuttgart, headed the UBA for 21 years. His successor Andreas Troge, UBA President from 1995 to 2009, honoured von Lersner as an extraordinary visionary of environmental protection: "Mr von Lersner played a key role in making a vision of conservation of our natural resources into reality through scientifically sound and practical measures. The way he held his fellow man in high regard, and us colleagues in particular, his foresight concerning future environmental problems, and his insistence on the scientific independence of the Federal Environment Agency have left an indelible mark on the Agency." UBA's incumbent President, Maria Krautzberger, added: "The Federal Environment Agency, which Mr von Lersner helped found as an agency of a new style, owes its excellent reputation among the public and the science community to him – from the time just after its foundation to the present day."

After finishing secondary school in 1950 Mr von Lersner started law studies in Tübingen and Kiel, graduated from the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer and took his second state examination in law in 1959. He earned a doctorate in the same year under the public law specialist Günter Dürig of Tübingen on the subject of liability for legislative wrongdoing. He then started his career as a lawyer at a number of county halls in southern Baden. A mere two years later von Lersner switched to the federal administration. He worked in the directorate-general 'Social Affairs' at the Federal Ministry of the Interior starting in 1961, later moving to the directorate-general 'Public Security'. It was not until 1970 that he switched to the recently reallocated directorate-general 'Environmental Protection' at the Federal Ministry of Health, where he served as Head of the Directorate 'Water and Waste Management'. In 1973 he was appointed by Minister of Interior Hans-Dietrich Genscher to the office of Head of the Federal Office for Environmental Affairs, the predecessor institution of the UBA . Mr Lersner served as president of UBA, which was founded in 1974, for 21 years until his retirement in 1995.

Mr von Lersner was above all a generalist in the area of law, stumbling upon environmental protection virtually by accident, as he once said himself in an interview given in 1983. However, it was a chance encounter which became a pet project, to which his tremendous productivity in the area of environmental law attests: between 1970 and 1990 he published more than 50 scientific articles on waste and water legislation and other environmental issues. His management style was rather unorthodox for an agency director of the 1970s and 1980s. As a member of the left wing of the FDP, von Lersner was a strong advocate of the civil liberties of the individual. He saw the UBA as an agency of a new era and took that notion seriously. He took pains to dismantle hierarchical barriers, for example by speaking not only with supervisors but also directly with their subordinates as well – something completely novel at the time. He thought it completely normal to go for lunch in the canteen together with staff. He had an open ear for many people.

It was von Lersner's main objective to establish UBA as an independent agency that could withstand the tides of political change. One story that is still told today is how he managed to establish a B8 pay grade for the UBA's president while he served at the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI), thus ensuring that the position did not have the status of political appointee and could therefore not be reassigned after a change of government. He was a staunch defender of staff who were criticised time and again – for example when the superior BMI complained about the "insubordinate style of clothing" at the UBA, or when the scientifically-founded opinions of UBA staff did not coincide with policy expectations within the ministries.

In his private life he had a great interest in history and art. Von Lersner established a tradition of hosting art exhibitions at UBA on a regular basis.

Umweltbundesamt Headquarters

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau

Heinrich Freiherr von Lersner, Präsident des Umweltbundesamtes von 1974 bis 1995

  1. Der erste Präsident des Umweltbundesamtes, Heinrich Freiherr von Lersner
  2. 1974 reiste eine Delegation des UBA mit Präsident Heinrich von Lersner nach Chicago
  3. Die Amtsleitung des UBA im Jahr 1975
  4. Hannover Messe 1977: UBA-Präsident Heinrich von Lersner erläutert die Werststoff-Rückgewinnung
  5. Nur für Altglas: Pressekonferenz der „Aktion saubere Landschaft“ auf der Grünen Woche 1977
  6. 1978 stellt Präsident Heinrich von Lersner den lärmgeminderten Blauer-Engel-Altglascontainer vor
  7. Heinrich von Lersner pflanzt ein Bäumchen
  8. Tag der Umwelt 1980: Testet Heinrich von Lersner hier eine Alternative zum Dienstwagen?
  9. von Lersner vor dem Stand „Milch aus Mehrwegflaschen gesund und umweltfreundlich“, Umweltmarkt 1980
  10. Lersner präsentiert 1981 asbestfreie Bremsbeläge, ausgezeichnet mit dem „Blauen Engel“
  11. Heinrich von Lersner präsentiert 1982 Bundesinnenminister Friedrich Zimmermann das Bildungsangebot
  12. Lersner u. Bundesinnenminister Baum präsentieren 1980 Forschungseregbnisse zum schadstoffarmen Motor
  13. Heinrich von Lersner demonstriert 1988 an einer Tankstelle in Berlin-Tempelhof das Gaspendelverfahre
  14. Das UBA war für von Lernser ein „Amt neuen Stils“ und das war mehr als eine Floskel.
  15. „Wir benützen die Erde, als seien wir die letzte Generation, die auf ihr lebt!“ – Zitat
  16. Nach 21 Jahren an der Spitze des UBA übergibt Heinrich von Lersner die Leitung an Andreas Troge.
  17. Zu seiner Verabschiedung erhielt von Lersner 1995 von seiner Belegschaft eine Tabakdose der KPM
  18. Die ehemaligen UBA-Präsidenten Lersner (links), Flasbarth (Mitte) und Troge (rechts) im Jahr 2009