German supermarket chain Lidl operates over 10,000 stores. With this global reach, the impact of its sustainability strategy is felt across countries. We speak to Head of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Lidl Ireland, Deirdre Ryan, about the company’s CSR initiatives.
Tell us about your CSR initiatives?
At Lidl, we believe it is our responsibility to build a successful, sustainable future, not just for Lidl, but for the communities we serve. This commitment is enshrined in ‘A Better Tomorrow’, our sustainability strategy. This sets out clear ambitious sustainability targets across four key pillars: Responsible Sourcing, Protecting the Environment, Team Lidl and Lidl Community Works. This strategy crystallises our commitment to provide a safe and nurturing environment for employees, contribute positively to our communities and be exemplary environmental stewards. We embrace our responsibility, working hard and smart to bring about real change in our communities, where it matters most, through innovation, investment and active leadership.
We are committed to sustainable business principles and practices, including responsible sourcing and are fully committed to ensuring that our buying power drives positive change for producers, communities and the environment in Ireland and further afield.
In practice these commitments take a variety of forms such as sourcing 100% of our bananas to sustainability programmes including Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade. We’re also building the largest network of electric vehicle charging points across the Irish supermarket sector. We have adopted 100% renewable electricity sourcing throughout our operations helping us to reduce our environmental footprint. In May 2019 we introduced recycling stations to help customers better manage unwanted packaging on products bought in-store.
On reaching out to our colleagues to see which cause we should support, mental health came to the fore. In 2018, we partnered with Jigsaw the National Centre for Youth Mental Health committing to raise €1 million over 3 years. We are encouraging customers and colleagues to be One Good Adult to a young person by being there to listen, support and advise when times are tough. Developing a bespoke and integrated campaign on the importance of ‘Listening’ to young people enabled us to begin this goal.
What inspired your CSR initiatives?
Our vision is to make life better by providing quality food at market-leading value, ensuring customer satisfaction is at the heart of everything we do. This is the bedrock to life at Lidl and is a source of inspiration for our CSR initiatives. This vision helps us to ensure we are embedding sustainability across the company.
We’re inspired by our customers on a daily basis to constantly work towards improving our actions. Our customers hold us accountable and we listen and improve to consistently be a market leader in CSR activity. One example of this is the issue of plastics where we are highly focused on looking for solutions that meet quality standards, ensure shelf life and don’t harm the planet. Our customers question us on an ongoing basis as to our approach to the proliferation of plastic in modern day life. We are working proactively with suppliers and industry partners to reduce plastic use and improve the recyclability of these materials in our own brand products. Taking an innovative approach to plastic reduction we have reduced the plastic in our Carrick Glen Irish Still Spring water by 30%. We also discontinued the sale of single-use plastic items including plastic drinking straws, disposable plastic cups and glasses, plates and cutlery in stores. We are currently working with suppliers to replace the products with biodegradable alternatives – a good example of this is the wooden cutlery utensils introduced in the summer 2019 range.
How does this particular area relate to your company and brand?
The ‘A Better Tomorrow strategy’ aligns to those areas that are most material to our business and stakeholders and where we can have the greatest positive impact.
We reached out to our internal team and the wider community to understand what social and environmental concerns were most important to our stakeholders. Feedback from a wide range of stakeholders including customers, partners, suppliers, employees, charities, media and third-party area experts helped us to define our strategy.
Corporate citizenship, local development and high-quality products were identified as most material. Our stakeholders also rated human rights in the supply chain, food waste and packaging as particularly important to them. Qualitative feedback clarified and confirmed our stakeholders wanted to learn more about our processes protecting human rights and commitments to reducing food waste and packaging. The responses also highlighted that stakeholders were particularly interested in ethical brands and local fresh produce. Although we engage on a wide number of areas these help us to prioritise so as to have a maximum positive impact and shape our sustainability strategy in the future.
What are you doing to help?
Our sustainability programme sets out clear targets in key areas such as waste, emissions, energy, water, responsible sourcing of products and social sustainability. We set ourselves an ambitious objective of implementing a national food redistribution programme in partnership with FoodCloud in all of our stores and warehouses in 2017. This ambition aimed to donate 1 million meals in surplus food by 2020, which we’re delighted to have exceeded with 1.4 million meals donated to charity and community groups to date.
We are continually driving our partnership with Jigsaw forward through local fundraising, regional initiatives and participation, our employees co-ordinated multiple local and national fundraisers, including Superhero Saturday, Lidl’s Got Talent and an exciting Skydive. We developed a nationwide campaign raising awareness for the importance of OneGoodAdult in a young person’s life around the theme of listening. Through these efforts in the first twelve months of the partnership formation, awareness of Jigsaw has doubled and over €500,000 has been fundraised, half of our 3 year target in just over a year.
Has your vision grown since you started?
We started off with fundraising initiatives for local charities that were focused on community and colleague engagement. Since then we have defined clear collaborations and set ourselves long term goals around social and environmental progress. As the old adage goes, what gets measured gets managed and it’s certainly the case in our CSR endeavours. In 2017, we unveiled the ‘A Better Tomorrow’ sustainability strategy and began to formalise our CSR framework with clear strategic targets interlinked with the business operations.
Part of this strategy involved becoming Origin Green certified which has helped us benchmark our progress against industry best practice. The more we assess and re-evaluate the more we see areas for growth and development so it is a continuous journey of improvement towards A Better Tomorrow.
How do you think implementing CSR has benefitted or improved your business?
The benefits of CSR to Lidl are wide reaching. On a societal level through our partnership with Jigsaw we are helping our colleagues and customers better equip young people to deal with their mental health. This rally’s our colleagues towards a sense of shared purpose. Our innovation also improves with commitments such as assessing 850 own-brand products (over 30% of the product range) to a 20% reduction in added sugar content as well as reducing salt levels in accordance with best practice standards by the end of 2020 meaning that we have to reformulate to provide a healthier range.
We are taking steps to future-proof our stores by investing in solar panels for suitable stores and equipping them with Electric Vehicle charging points. The Irish customer is savvy with their weekly shop and by aligning our values with theirs we can work towards meeting their needs. This goes for attracting the top talent too for our workforce of over 4,300 employees who want to work for a company they can feel proud of.
As we grow into more communities around Ireland, ensuring our sourcing meets the highest standards of sustainability certifications continues to strengthen our brand and ensure our values are maintained throughout our complex supply chain. Operating at scale provides many benefits and also opportunities for efficiency such as our zero waste to landfill helping to minimise waste management costs.
How do you involve employees in your CSR initatives?
We have a collaborative culture embedded into our Lidl values. It’s very common to see the store manager on tills or packing shelves and for office-based colleagues to do training and annual placements in-store. This culture fosters an environment wherein if a CSR initiative is proposed, such as making our stores more inclusive environments for people on the autism spectrum which was a suggestion from a member of our store team, it is given consideration.
This culture helped us to introduce Autism Awareness evenings wherein our stores between 6-8pm every Tuesday evening dim the lighting, reduce in-store sounds and allow for priority queuing on request. We are the first retailer in Ireland to have such an initiative in all stores and continue to work with Autism charities across the country in delivering trainings to our colleagues.
Do you have any employee-led CSR initiatives?
We have raised over half a million euro since launching our partnership with Jigsaw in 2018. The various fundraising initiatives are fully employee led by our Jigsaw Heroes. Our store colleagues can volunteer to be a Jigsaw Hero which means they receive a training day and are ambassadors for Jigsaw in-store leading the various events throughout the year. These range from bake-sales and raffles to spin-a-thons and treks.
Every employee is entitled to one volunteer day a year, for which they receive an extra day of annual leave. Our colleagues our engaged in local communities throughout Ireland and this extra day is to support them in making a positive impact.
Do you have any advice for companies who are just beginning to implement a CSR strategy?
Sustainability is moving fast, the sheer diversity of issues is evolving quickly; from micro-plastics to food waste; climate change to labour standards; responsible sourcing requirements to supporting local communities. The pace of change will create exciting opportunities for innovation, efficiencies and engagement.
We have also experienced that consumers are increasingly demanding commitment to sustainability. They want businesses to offer products which meet their needs and don’t destroy the planet in doing so thereby requiring businesses to go beyond a business as normal approach.
The future for business leading the way in sustainability is collaboration. We welcome companies beginning their journey into implementing CSR strategies and are members of Business in the Community, a CSR advisory group where we regularly meet with our peers. We have also shared our efforts in diversity and inclusion, autism awareness and sustainability with the government led CSR Stakeholder Forum helping to create a library of best practice.
We strongly believe that by acting responsibly, we are more competitive, sustainable and successful in delivering our vision to make life better by providing quality food at market-leading value and ensuring customer satisfaction. We recognise that with 162 stores across Ireland we have an immensely powerful impact on the Irish economy and society. More broadly speaking we have aligned our vision to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals to ensure we are doing our part in working towards A Better Tomorrow.
Business for Good
Business & Finance, in association with Aviva, recognises the efforts of companies attempting to create meaningful social change through effecting strong Corporate Social Responsibility programmes.