Ministry of Environment turns 40

Festakt zu 100 Jahre Regierungsgebäude, Musiker beim Ständchen
Photo: BMLRT / Markus Rief

In 2012 the Ministry of Environment celebrated its 40th anniversary. An official ceremony was held to mark the occasion on 7 November 2012.


The Ministry of Environment commenced operations on 1 February 1972 under the 2nd Kreisky government. Three agendas, previously the responsibility of other ministries, were merged into one department in an effort to bring together political fields characterised by their growing socio-political significance.

The agenda Environment was originally handled by the Federal Chancellery, Health by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Veterinary Services by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Even back then, the newly created Federal Ministry of Health and Environmental Protection was very much like a "Ministry of Life".

Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky appointed physician Ingrid Leodolter as Austria's first Minister of Health and Environment. She was followed by Hertha Firnberg (on an interim basis), Herbert Salcher, Kurt Steyrer and Franz Kreuzer (all SPÖ, Austria's Social Democratic Party). Similar to Hertha Firnberg, they were responsible for both environmental and health agendas.

Ever since the government was formed in 1987, the department has been in the hands of the ÖVP (the Austrian People's Party). The newly established Federal Ministry of Environment, Youth and Family Affairs was first led by Marilies Flemming, followed by Ruth Feldgrill-Zankel, Maria Rauch-Kallat and Martin Bartenstein. The latter was also the only one who, for a short while, managed a fully independent Environment Department: The Federal Ministry of Environment existed between 1 Jan. 1995 and 30 Apr. 1996.


In 2000 the Ministry of Environment merged with the Agricultural Department. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management was initially the responsibility of Wilhelm Molterer, Josef Pröll, Nikolaus Berlakovich, and Andrä Rupprechter. In December 2017 it was renamed “Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism” and has since then been headed by Elisabeth Köstinger.

Until the Federal Office building on Radetzkystraße was completed in 1986, the Ministry was located in the Government Building on Stubenring 1. The environment-related departments were the first to move into the building on Radetzkystraße. But given the rapidly growing number of employees, it was decided in 1991 that only Directorate General I was to stay there. Directorates General II and III moved to Untere Donaustraße. In 1995 all environment departments were brought together in a newly rented building on Stubenbastei.

For a long while, the presidential agendas were taken care of by the Ministry of Finance. It was not until 1996 that a separate “Präsidium” (chief executive department) for environment affairs was established.

Subsidy-related agendas were outsourced to separate organisation units early on. In 1984 the Environment Fund started operating. In 1987 it was merged with the Water Management Fund, which previously came under the Ministry of Construction. To ensure the provision of environmental data with a sound scientific foundation, the Federal Environment Agency was set up, which was turned into a "GesmbH" (an Austrian limited liability company) in 1999.

Navigating Between Conflicting Interests

The matters the Ministry of Environment has been dealing with over the last 40 years very clearly reflect social developments. Much of what was addressed was the focus of debate in the media: Zwentendorf, Hainburg, catalytic converters, the Fischer landfill site or Temelin were all controversies that divided the public.

The fact that acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, CFC aerosol spray cans or lead-free petrol led to fierce discussions may strike us as rather strange. Past environmental policy achievements are all too often taken for granted. National parks, renewable energy or waste separation belong so unquestionably to our reality that we rarely consider how this came about.

What did and still does drive environmental policy today is the fact that it must navigate between conflicting interests. The match between objectors and status quo defenders on the one hand and sustainability advocates and visionaries on the other starts afresh each and every day. What used to be the catalytic converter is now biofuel.

The Ministry of Environment will not be spared the struggle of being caught in a tangle of conflicting interests. This has shaped the people who have worked here for the last 40 years and will continue to do so.

The Environment Ministers

1972 - 1979 Dr. Ingrid Leodolter (+)
1979 Dr Hertha Firnberg (+)
1979 - 1981 Dr. Herbert Salcher
1981 - 1985 Dr. Kurt Steyrer (+)
1985 - 1987 Franz Kreuzer (+)
1987 - 1991 Dr. Marilies Flemming
1991 - 1992 Dkfm. Ruth Feldgrill-Zankel
1992 - 1995 Maria Rauch-Kallat
1995 - 2000 Dr. Martin Bartenstein
2000 - 2003 Mag. Wilhelm Molterer
2003 - 2008 Dipl.-Ing. Josef Pröll
2008 - 2013 Dipl.-Ing. Nikolaus Berlakovich
2013 – 2017 Dipl.-Ing. Andrä Rupprechter

Since 2017 Elisabeth Köstinger

Directors General at the Ministry of Environment since its Establishment

Dr. Herbert Pindur (+)
Dr. Ernst Bobek
Dr. Heinz Schreiber
Dr. Fritz Unterpertinger
Dr. Leopold Zahrer
Dr. Ernst Streeruwitz
Dipl.-Ing. Günter Liebel
Dipl.-Ing. Christian Holzer


Niki Berlakovich, then Federal Minister, seized the opportunity of the 40th anniversary of the Ministry of Environment to announce the energy efficiency-related optimisation of the location on Stubenbastei 5. This made it the first ministry building in Austria to comply with eco-standards.