“We want to provide a target horizon”

The big retailers may lead the field but smaller actors also have good opportunities for positioning themselves well in the area of the environment. WWF expert Jennifer Zimmermann comments on the WWF’s 2015 environmental ratings.

Interview: Yvonne von Hunnius

Jennifer Zimmermann is co-author of the “WWF Umwelt-Rating 2015 – Gross- und Detailhandel – Food und Near-Food” (“WWF Environmental Rating 2015 – Wholesale and Retail Trade –  Food and Near-Food”), which was published in December 2015. She is responsible for company ratings and the retail sector in the WWF’s Department of Consumption and the Economy.   

What does the environmental rating system say?

Jennifer Zimmermann: Our environmental rating system shows how retail and wholesale companies support environmental issues in different areas. We considered different activities in the areas of strategy, product range and social commitment. Each participating company was given detailed feedback as to where it stands from an environmental perspective. We now plan to survey the environmental ratings at regular intervals. This will enable us to record the companies’ progress and changes.  

Why did you single out retail and wholesale companies for the rating?  

Food is a huge part of our environmental impact. Hence this sector is particularly relevant. Due to their key position within the supply change, traders can make an important contribution to reducing the environmental impacts of food.

What is the aim of the rating?

We set ourselves the following questions: What is needed for companies to adopt a business model that is aimed at improving the ecological sustainability of our planet and limiting climate warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius? And where should traders stand in 2025? Based on this we developed a target horizon for a fictitious company, with which we can compare the actual companies.  

The retailers Coop and Migros appear to come very close to this ideal company already – what is it that they do better than others?

This is mainly down to their very thorough and systematic approach to the ecological challenges they face. They examined where the relevant environmental impacts lie using materiality analyses. When a company adopts this information as a basis for measures, it is on the right track. This approach ultimately yields results in a wide variety of areas.  

Coop and Migros are strategic partners of the WWF – what influence did this have on the rating?

The rating and partnerships are two different roads leading to the same destination: influencing the food sector. To ensure the independence of our partners, we only defined the criteria for the rating system. The rating itself was carried out by the independent rating agency. It shows, among other things, how effective our partnerships are. Migros and Coop are far more advanced in many areas than other companies thanks, not least, to their cooperation with the WWF.  

The big retailers can put more pressure on suppliers and have an influence on national conditions – are the other retailers not at a basic disadvantage here?

Not at all! Based on a materiality analysis, each company can identify the biggest challenges they face and initiate credible measures. In addition, some of the structural differences between different types of retailers bring certain advantages. For example, the discounters have a smaller range of products and can concentrate their efforts better as a result. We have also had very good experiences with sectoral approaches. Many of the challenges are international and very complex and cannot be overcome by individual companies. This applies, for example, to unsustainable water consumption in dry regions and the problems associated with the production of soya and palm oil. The soya network, in which many companies – including small ones – have joined forces with a view to obtaining 90 percent of their soya requirements from responsible production, has generated enormous impetus.  

Can you really compare wholesalers with retailers?

When it comes to establishing a long-term, environmentally-friendly and secure food supply both retailers and wholesalers face the same challenges. Hence similar sustainability strategies are deployed in the two sub-sectors. These include the inclusion of sustainability aspects into strategy and management, measures for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and the promotion of products that comply with recognised environmental standards. The three wholesale companies surveyed perform on average similarly to the majority of the retailers. This confirms that – even if the wholesalers face greater challenges in inspiring their customers like restaurants, canteens and other large consumers to provide more environmentally-friendly services for the end consumers – the environmental challenges and strategies facing the two sub-sectors are comparable.

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Last modification 06.01.2016

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