As the world economy is rapidly moving away from an oil and consumption driven model to a green, sustainable way of doing business, Business Review would like you to share the projects and ideas for a better world of leading sustainability, environment, and CSR professionals from top Romanian companies. For this, we recently started #GreenRestart, a special editorial project, aiming to become a platform for green initiatives of Romanian companies.
In the second installment of the new #GreenRestart interview series Business Review talked with Mirel Tescar (Logistics Director) & Cristina Hanganu (Communication & CSR Director) at Lidl Romania, one of the largest retailers in Romania and certainly one of the most involved companies in CSR and sustainable programs.
Which are the main pillars of Lidl’s CSR strategy at this moment?
Responsible behavior in all our fields of activity is the way we manage to fulfill our promise of quality every day, to protect the environment for a better future, both for us and for future generations. A decisive factor in building our CSR strategy is the impact that our company has, and following a 360-degree mapping of it, we have defined several areas of impact, which we have transposed into Lidl’s five pillars of sustainability: Assortment, Environment, Society, Employees and Partners. In order to detail these five pillars and how we intend to act sustainably, we have also defined a group-level strategy that we call the Lidl Model of Responsibility. This model is, in fact, a matrix based on four areas: 1. resources and agriculture, 2. supply and processing chain, 3. operations and processes, 4. customers and society. Through it, we can track the processes in these areas and further optimize them.
What CSR projects have you implemented so far at Lidl?
Sustainability is part of the DNA of the Lidl business. We do not believe in one-off projects, but in a long-term vision that translates into long-term programs and a responsible way of doing business.
At the heart of our operations is efficiency, and for us, efficiency means sustainability. That is why we are constantly adapting our internal processes to be more and more sustainable – whether we are talking about those related to the range of products, logistics or network expansion. All of this is documented and analyzed in our annual sustainability report, an extremely useful tool in analyzing the progress we have made and setting the following goals.
At the same time, we are a company that takes responsibility for the communities it belongs to and, therefore, we are constantly involved in supporting them and contributing to solving the most important issues on the public agenda. We have set ourselves three strategic directions for our social investments and we support programs in the areas of education, environment and emergency services. One of the largest programs we carry out in the direction of environmental protection is “With Clean Waters”, launched in 2019 together with the More Green Association (Asociația Mai Mult Verde), in order to combat and prevent plastic pollution of Danube waters. We also invest in facilitating access to quality education for all children, regardless of their environment and through our long-term partnerships with organizations such as Teach for Romania, World Vision or the Step by Step Center. At the same time, we are a traditional partner of the Foundation for SMURD – from 2015 until now, with the support of Lidl, 17 urban intervention motorcycles were purchased for paramedics in Bucharest and 6 other cities in the country, and in the spring of this year, the first section of mobile intensive care in Romania for coronavirus patients. Another extremely important partnership is with the network of Food Banks, which we have supported since the inauguration of the first Bank in 2016, in order to effectively fight food waste.
In addition to all these programs, we constantly carry out fundraising campaigns at cash registers, in order to help NGOs that support social causes with national impact and we organize annual Back to School and Christmas campaigns, through which we donate 1 RON for each product sold in the school supplies categories and, respectively, toys to organizations that promote access to education. Even during this period, we are carrying out a campaign at the cash registers in which we aim to support, with the help of our clients, the actions of World Vision Romania in order to rebuild and equip the schools in the disadvantaged areas.
What can you tell us about the internal CSR projects carried out for Lidl employees?
We are one of the largest employers in Romania, with over 8,000 employees throughout the country, which means that it is our responsibility to constantly educate our employees in the direction of sustainability, so that they are aware not only of the importance it has in our business processes, but also the impact that the actions of each of them have, both as an employee and as a citizen. That is why we regularly organize various internal education campaigns on topics such as food waste or plastic pollution. In all the stores and offices where we operate we have selective collection containers, and in the headquarters, where we also have a canteen for employees, we use biodegradable containers for the food they want to pack.
At the same time, we involve our colleagues in MD directly in actions in the field of sustainability. We organize planting initiatives throughout the country, in which all colleagues are invited to participate, regardless of whether they work in stores, warehouses, regional offices or headquarters. At the same time, we involve employees in charitable or volunteer activities for the NGOs we support – for example, they offer Christmas gifts and school supplies to children enrolled in World Vision programs, all chosen and purchased personally by each team.
What are the directions you see for CSR initiatives in Romania for the next years?
The major directions in the area of CSR must depend to a large extent on the one hand on the public agenda (both at national and global level), and on the other hand on the sustainability strategy of each company. We, Lidl, have developed our sustainability strategy based on a long-term vision and will continue to invest in the directions we have chosen – education, environment and emergency services – so as to ensure that the programs we run have a real impact with lasting results.
How much do you think the current pandemic crisis has changed the solidarity concept in Romanian society – both for companies, as well as at individual level – considering the fact that in the first months of the pandemic, many companies have joined forces to fight against Covid-19?
The lesson of solidarity is perhaps one of the most important things we hope society will end up with after the pandemic. We all realized that in the fight against the new type of coronavirus, an unprecedented mobilization is needed. That is why an important part of Lidl’s contributions in this fight have been developed together with other entities. For example, in March, together with Kaufland Romania, we donated to the Ministry of Health 100,000 harvesters for nasal and pharyngeal exudate / viral transport medium, necessary to perform molecular diagnostic tests to detect this virus.
Solidarity is an attitude we have always believed in when it comes to sustainability and social projects, where there should be no competition, but consolidated efforts. For example, in order to combat food waste effectively, we have been a partner of the Food Banks network since the launch of the first such organization and we have constantly called for solidarity with other actors in the private sector, to join as financiers and donors.
How is the concept of sustainability transposed in the environmental projects / interventions that Lidl has in the CSR area?
As the slogan of our two sustainability reports says, we are “Responsible for Us”. We have only one planet, whose resources are finite and it is our duty to protect it, so that future generations can enjoy it. We are one of the largest retailers in Romania, we have 280 stores in all counties of the country and over 8000 employees. And we know that this dimension of operations comes with equally great responsibilities to society and the environment.
Since the beginning of 2018, Lidl Romania is a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, so that our sustainability strategy respects the UNGC principles and contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. Among the most important measures deriving from this commitment is the comprehensive set of actions and programs aimed at protecting the environment.
What are Lidl’s main directions in terms of environment?
For a Lidl-sized retailer, the directions of action in the environmental area are diverse and complex, because they take into account most of our operations – from the moment the raw material from which our own brand products are manufactured is exploited and until they reach the final consumer and even after that, if we refer to packaging or food waste.
Thus, we take measures primarily at the level of internal processes to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible. A good example is REset Plastic, our international strategy in the field of plastics, which was launched in 2018 by the Schwarz Group. Through it, at group level, we are committed to reducing the plastic used by 20% by 2025 and to take measures so that the packaging of all own brand products is as recyclable as possible. One of the measures we took was to remove from sale, 2 years ago, disposable plastic bags, a measure by which we estimate that, annually, at least 535 tons of plastic are saved. All bags and sacks available in our stores are either recyclable or biodegradable and we encourage our customers to focus on reusable alternatives we offer, such as textile bags for transporting products and bags for weighing fruits and vegetables. Another impactful measure was the removal from sale, in 2019, of all disposable plastic items, such as glasses, deep and stretched plates, but also cutlery and straw. We also constantly optimize the packaging of our products so that we put as little plastic as possible in circulation – for example, we have given up the plastic bags in which we sell organic bananas and we have managed to reduce the amount of plastic in packaging for products such as Alesto, our brand of dried fruits, nuts, hazelnuts and seeds.
Also as measures to protect the environment, we optimize the transport of products by following the transport indicators and the planning schedule, choosing the best routes and taking into account the optimal use of truck loading. At the same time, we adopt the most demanding sustainability standards in terms of the constructions and buildings in which we operate, we work only with suppliers that respect strict environmental standards and we support them in achieving them, we make sure that we minimize food waste in the value chain. All these measures, and many more, are detailed in our annual sustainability report.
At the same time, one of our strategic directions for social investment is environmental protection, which is why we have long-term partnerships with civil society to implement impact programs. The “Clean Waters” program developed together with Asociația Mai Mult Verde to prevent plastic pollution of the Danube, the ASAP platform through which together with The Institute we aim to hold young people accountable for selective collection and partnership with the Federation of Food Banks to the fight against food waste are just a few examples. In addition to partnerships with large organizations, we also support small, local NGOs to implement impact projects – through the program “Fund for a better future in communities”, coordinated by the Federation of Community Foundations in Romania, we offer valuable financial support of 1,187,500 lei and mentoring the best solutions to local challenges in education and the environment in the cities of Brașov, Buftea, Cluj, Oradea and Vaslui.
Food waste prevention is closely linked to the reduction of waste. What are the projects in this area in which Lidl is involved?
Because our business is, to a large extent, about food, we have also been actively involved in the fight against food waste, including through measures taken at the level of internal processes. We use an intelligent store order generation system, which works at the level of all our warehouses, which allows us a better optimization of stocks. Thus, we make sure from the first links of the distribution chain that we minimize waste. Next, once the goods have arrived in stores, we want to make sure that the volume of food that can become waste is minimal, which is why we introduced the 30% Cube – an area dedicated to products with a 30 percent discount. Thus, items that have a short shelf life (meaning time for consumption available to the customer) are labeled with a colored sticker bearing the 30% mark and the two prices (old / new). Labeling is part of the internal freshness control process, and 30% cubes are properly flagged so that they can be easily identified and accessed by our customers.
In order to effectively fight the food waste and on the next links of the value chain, we are a partner of the network of Food Banks since 2016, since the founding of the first such organization in Bucharest. Food Banks are non-profit organizations that collect and distribute to partner NGOs the products that producers, importers, distributors or retailers donate. The assumed objective of the Banks is that food and non-food products considered surpluses, in which material resources and labor have been invested, not to reach losses or waste, but to be consumed by those in difficulty and who have no purchasing power. In the last 4 years, we have contributed over 2,000,000 lei to the operation and expansion of the network and we have donated over 170 tons of food products that have passed on to people in difficulty, beneficiaries of the organization. Currently, there are 5 Food Banks in Bucharest, Cluj, Roman, Brasov and Oradea, officially reunited in the Federation of Food Banks in Romania – FBAR, established in September.
How important is the direction of biodiversity conservation for Lidl and how is this translated into the projects you carry out?
Protecting biodiversity is an objective to which we contribute through all our environmental protection activities. We look primarily at the impact that the manufacturing process of our products has, from the moment of selection of raw materials. In this regard, we are committed to respecting biodiversity through a series of “Policies for Responsible Assortment”, which consider the purchase of raw materials from sustainable sources and exploited by environmentally friendly methods that do not endanger ecosystems. Lidl has signed such policies for products and raw materials such as flowers and plants, eggs, fish, shellfish and by-products, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, tea and cellulose. All these policies can be consulted on our corporate website. As a result, we have in our portfolio a variety of products with various certifications in the field of sustainability such as Global G.A.P. for flowers, plants, fruits and vegetables (all fruits and vegetables from local producers have this certification), MSC and Dolphin Safe for fish and shellfish, Fairtrate UTZ and Rainforest Alliance for cocoa and coffee, or FSC for cellulose products, such as napkins, diapers or toilet paper.
At the same time, we support extensive programs that aim to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity, such as, for example, “With Clean Waters”, conducted in conjunction with Asociația Mai Mult Verde. Plastic pollution of the planet’s ocean is one of the worst environmental problems globally, with international bodies estimating that by 2050 we may have more plastic in our waters than fish. Launched in the spring of 2019, as a call for involvement in combating and preventing plastic pollution of Danube waters, it aims to clean the Danube of historical pollution, by collecting plastic already existing in the riverbed, but also to implement measures to preventing and combating future discharges, including by educating the population. So far, 9 spaces in the vicinity of the Danube have been equipped with separate collection systems, through which 120 tons of plastic have been collected, preventing them from reaching the river waters. During the sanitation actions, over 14 tons of plastic waste were collected from the banks and the water surface, during some sanitation actions in the Danube Delta and in localities along the river.
Another partnership we have developed in the field of biodiversity conservation is the one with WWF, with which we have been involved in several programs, the most recent being “Zero plastic in the Danube Delta”, which aims to establish integrated measures management of plastic waste in the Delta and the involvement of local communities in the responsible collection and recycling of this waste. In addition, over time we have supported other NGOs fighting for biodiversity protection, such as Greenpeace and the Romanian Ornithological Society.
What can you tell us about the efficiency of your buildings, as a contributing factor to the protection of the environment?
We are proud to be the only retailer in Romania that has in its portfolio 3 BREEAM certified buildings: the Lidl store in the Aviației district of Bucharest, the Lidl headquarters in the capital and the logistics center in Lugoj. BREEAM is the highest standard of sustainability and efficiency in the construction industry, and certification is obtained through an extremely rigorous audit process. All 3 buildings registered the highest scores in the categories they belong to, thus becoming the most sustainable in Romania, according to BREEAM International New Construction standards. For us, these certifications represent the recognition of the commitment to invest in sustainability and to build truly responsible, respecting the highest quality standards.
But it’s not just the BREEAM-certified buildings in Lidl’s portfolio that are “green”. All the constructions in which we operate comply with demanding sustainability standards, which means that they have a low consumption of energy and water, leading not only to a decrease in maintenance costs, but also to a positive impact on the environment, which is seen on long term. In addition, 11 of the 280 Lidl stores have a green roof, which gives them even more energy efficiency than a regular unit – the vegetation on the roof helps maintain a constant temperature throughout the year, naturally filters rainwater, due to the multiple component layers, and at the same time reduces the amount of water discharged into the sewer systems.
What can you tell us about Lidl’s carbon footprint when it comes to the permanent efficiency of freight transport?
We have constantly made efforts to make our transport activity efficient and, at the same time, as less polluting as possible, and the measures we have taken cover all stages of the logistics process. We constantly monitor the main indicators that influence the carbon footprint of transports, such as the degree of loading of trucks or the route traveled (through GPS systems mounted on semi-trailers) and we quickly remedy any deviations with the help of transport partners. In addition, at the end of each year, we make a detailed analysis of these indicators and thus optimize the plan for next year.
One of the most important tools that helps us in this regard is Quintiq, a state-of-the-art software platform for managing the transport activity, used in all our logistics offices. Quintiq helps us to efficiently plan the loading of trucks, or to correctly estimate transport times, so as to reduce the number of kilometers traveled, thus limiting the level of emissions generated.
We are also committed to collaborating, depending on the local context, with carriers that have trucks that are as environmentally friendly as possible. In the selection of partners, we take into account the technical characteristics of the vehicles, the ability of the carriers to renew their fleet and to increase the number of trucks, respecting the Euro 5 and Euro 6 norms.
We also aim to keep the average transport distance as low as possible per depot and, as a result, fuel consumption and emissions as low as possible. We also do this by increasing the network of logistics offices in proportion to the development of the store network, so that each warehouse has around 50 stores. The most recent example of such an optimization is the inauguration of the logistics headquarters in Roman, through which we reduced the average distance by approximately 25%, from 151.36 km to 114 km.