World Wetlands Day Interview | Orieta Hulea, CEO WWF Romania, and Alex Bratu, CEO Jysk Romania & Bulgaria

Mihai-Alexandru Cristea 02/02/2022 | 14:01

The World Wetlands Day, celebrated each year on February 2, is the perfect opportunity to remember that Romania is home to Europe’s largest wetland, the Danube Delta. To celebrate the occasion, and to talk more about their recent partnership aimed at protecting freshwater habitats, Business Review sat down with Orieta Hulea, CEO of WWF Romania, and Alex Bratu, CEO of Jysk Romania & Bulgaria, for an exclusive interview.

 

Orieta Hulea, CEO of WWF Romania

  1. February 2nd is World Wetlands Day, which celebrates the most productive ecosystems in the world. The Danube floodplain needs urgent conservation measures, and WWF is working together with JYSK to ensure the sustainability of the ecological restoration from Mahmudia, Tulcea. What can you tell us about this project?

Two years ago we started partnering with Jysk to ensure the sustainability of the restoration works implemented in the Danube Delta-Mahmudia. 900 ha of agricultural land were reconnected to the Danube’s flood-pulse to restore reedbeds and open waters that shelter birds and fish species, enriching the biodiversity of the area and benefiting the local community. Nature does its part but we need to strengthen it with additional actions to ensure proper habitat quality and here is where the support from Jysk adds value. Invasive species need to be eliminated and natural floodplain forest (willows and poplars) needs to be restored. The newly established bird colonies will be supported with additional nesting platforms.

  1. According to a WWF report, 64% of all wetlands worldwide have been lost in the past 100 years. How can we protect wetlands in our country?

Over the past 150 years, the Danube River and its wetlands have been much abused. Dikes, dams, cuts, bank fixation, and dredging have modified large parts of the river system. More than 80% of wetlands have been lost and with them the ecosystem benefits they provide. The effects have been wide‑ranging and include plummeting fish and wildlife populations, decreases in water quality, and damage to wetlands, which are no longer able to provide much-needed biodiversity hotspots or to act as buffers to floodwaters, that are becoming all the more valuable in the face of climate change.

Our goal is to restore the lost floodplain as much as possible, through wetlands restoration projects that enhance the biodiversity and natural resources and at the same time bring benefits to local communities, including flood risk mitigation, opportunities for ecotourism development and local businesses based on sustainable use of natural resources. We have already successful projects implemented along the Danube (Garla Mare) and Danube Delta (Mahmudia), we aim at replicating and scaling up this experience.

  1. The conservation and restoration of wetlands, especially floodplains, must become a priority for Romanian society. How can we raise awareness of this issue?

Rivers and wetlands contribute in no small way to our quality of life – indeed, to our very survival. Few people realize the range of products and services that freshwater habitats like wetlands provide: not only food, but also water purification, flood management, drought mitigation, recreation, biomass, and biodiversity. These complex habitats act as giant sponges, soaking up rainfall and slowly releasing it over time. They also function as giant sewage treatment plants, absorbing chemicals, filtering pollutants and sediments, breaking down suspended solids and neutralizing harmful bacteria. Not least, wetlands are the most biologically diverse ecosystems, home to a wide range of flora and fauna.

In terms of communications and engagement, we have promoted awareness and education for example on rivers and wetlands to children and young families through a Living Danube tour and special events; to business through special business events; and to experts and policymakers through conferences and relevant meetings and working groups of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River.

  1. How much does the support of companies matter in the steps taken by WWF Romania?

The challenges that the global environment is facing today are too big, too interconnected, and too urgent for any one organization to solve alone. Therefore, WWF seeks to work with those who have the greatest potential to reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth and together find solutions to conservation challenges such as deforestation, overfishing, water scarcity, and climate change. The corporate sector drives much of the global economy, so we consider that companies also have a specific responsibility to ensure that the natural resources and ecosystems that underpin their business are used sustainably. Companies are also primed to lead on rapid adaptation and on the innovative solutions needed to drive change. By working with the corporate sector, WWF aims to change behavior and drive conservation results that would not be possible otherwise.

  1. What are WWF Romania’s plans for 2022?

In 2022 we will focus on promoting Nature-Based solutions (wetlands restoration) as a measure to mitigate flood risks and adapt to climate change impacts. We will continue working with key national and local stakeholders and actively engage them in wetland restoration projects to demonstrate multiple benefits (flood risk mitigation, fish and other natural resources provisioning, biodiversity conservation). We will use the results from our field projects to demonstrate the benefits of wetland restoration and raise awareness of the general public and stakeholders on their importance.

 

Alex Bratu, CEO of Jysk Romania & Bulgaria

  1. JYSK Romania is actively involved in the environmental projects carried out by WWF Romania. How do these partnerships work?

Back in 2020, we were looking for a credible and professional partner that could help support projects dedicated to nature conservation in Romania. We found this partner in WWF-Romania. We signed a three-year contract under which JYSK will be funding an important project in the Danube Delta, to ensure the sustainability of ecological reconstruction works done in Mahmudia. We visited the area in August and, accompanied by specialists from WWF-Romania, we discovered the benefits that ecological reconstruction brings to the local community and to nature. Local authorities are also supporting this project. Everyone involved agrees how important it is to retransform the lands that were once part of the Delta and return them to their natural state.

  1. February 2nd is World Wetlands Day, and together with WWF Romania you have preserved and restored the areas of the Danube Delta. What impact did this project have on the company and its employees?

Both our colleagues and customers have a positive view on this project. We visited Mahmudia with 10 colleagues and all of them were amazed by how beautiful the area is and how many different birds they saw. They were also pleased with the fact that the project specialists from WWF-Romania were very professional, they explained to us in detail why ecological reconstruction is important and how it impacts the environment. Our colleagues from Tulcea joined us, they consider the Danube Delta their home and they said the project from Mahmudia helps develop a more sustainable tourism. During our partnership with WWF-Romania, the NGO’s volunteers are collecting donations from our stores in Bucharest. The feedback from our store staff and from WWF-Romania fundraisers was very good, and some of our colleagues donated to support the project.

  1. How do employees view the CSR projects you run? What are your plans when it comes to motivating them to get involved in JYSK projects?

They are happy when JYSK is getting involved in a CSR project, they appreciate it and, most of the time, they also want to help, either by volunteering or by donating or redirecting 3,5% of their income tax. We also have candidates who tell us, during the interview, that they saw our CSR activity and it is one of the reasons why they decided to apply for a job at JYSK. We try to get our colleagues involved whenever possible, as volunteers for a tree planting event, to assemble furniture for a new small group family home or other activities. One of the ways to get them motivated is to show them positive examples, stories of other colleagues who volunteer for different causes.

  1. JYSK support is very important when it comes to WWF projects. What advice do you have for those who might want to start such partnerships?

Everyone who wants to contribute and help protect nature will find a trustworthy partner in WWF-Romania. My advice is to think about what Sustainable Development Goals are important to their company and invest in a project that will help reach that goal. In JYSK we focus on five SDGs, and the ecological reconstruction conducted by WWF-Romania helps reach three of them: Clean Water and Sanitation, Decent Work and Economic

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