What if we consume more than we have?

Sustainability impacts everyone: Consumers and companies, restaurateurs and patrons. Lena vom Stein, Head of Corporate Responsibility, explains in our interview the importance of this issue for METRO and why it is especially relevant for hospitality customers.

Sustainable shopping

Sustainability is becoming increasingly relevant in restaurateurs’ and retailers’ day-to-day operations. Why is that, Lena?

Among consumers, awareness of environmental and social issues that are connected with sustainable development is growing all the time. They have changed their consumer behaviour and expectations, and perhaps even the way they live their lives – at home, while shopping and in restaurants. Despite this, or possibly for the very reason that it is so ubiquitous, food is one area where the desire to act responsibly is particularly noticeable. Consumers want a ‘good feeling’ about what they consume, and for their meals to reflect their attitude as well. But they need guidance. Food companies must adapt to these realities – in the interest of customer satisfaction, and thus their own business success, but also for the good of the environment. When they become more sustainable, they enhance their image with their customer base and also create opportunities to gain new customers. They offer added value and differentiate themselves from the competition.

A global concept, but no global recipe for success. Why not?

It’s because the degrees to which people understand sustainable living and responsible business operations are vastly different the world over, and so are the challenges and parameters. The impacts of non-sustainable behaviour patterns, for example, are not felt as strongly everywhere: In Germany, wasting water is not considered as gravely irresponsible as it is in a country like Australia. In addition, the opportunities that sustainable concepts unlock cannot be leveraged in the same way everywhere: Energy, water and waste-disposal infrastructure as well as access to food are very different – not just from country to country, but even regionally. These are the specific circumstances our customers face, which means they always need unique concepts as well, although there is usually a common denominator.

And that common denominator is?

We consume more than we have. If we keep on going this way, the planet will no longer be able to feed us. That impacts us all. With our companies, whose core businesses mean they rely on food, we can affect real change in our communities if we use our resources wisely.

Why is this issue particularly important to METRO?

Because it’s relevant to our customers, as it concerns their customers in turn: Climate change and inequality are factors that are shaping our times, and they result in conflicts that young and future customers are not willing to accept. If you also consider that 1 in 3 meals is eaten outside the home, it is clear how vast the potential is if we start right there. We also see this in the various stakeholder requests from investors and NGOs that stand up for particular causes, which show us that sustainability is growing ever more important. And of course we see it in the demand for our product range, too.

What is METRO doing to help customers?

My colleagues and I developed ‘My Sustainable Restaurant’, a how-to guide that shows them how and where they can put sustainable concepts in the hospitality industry. You could call it our basic answer in the search for the common denominator. As the restaurateurs’ partner, we offer concrete solutions that can be individually adapted to the degree of maturity in the company or in society – including environmentally and socially friendly products and services. There are tips for recruitment, avoiding food waste, reducing trash, implementing energy-saving measures and offering regional products.

How did ‘My Sustainable Restaurant’ come about?
In June 2019, METRO conducted a customer survey in 22 countries, which clearly showed that our customers want to do business more sustainably. But it also indicated a lack of in-house resources and practical approaches. In light of everyday business demands, getting to grips with the topic and developing concepts or even just trying something out was an obstacle for many customers. That was where we decided to start, and we developed the toolbox. We soon saw that there can be no one-size-fits-all solution. But you can adjust certain processes that are set up more or less the same throughout the hospitality industry. By that I mean that electricity consumption, rubbish disposal, creating menus and dealing with human resources are part of all our customers’ core businesses, and all of these – depending on how far along each customer is in the process – make a difference in the move toward more sustainable operations. That’s also why these questions are among the focus areas in our own sustainability strategy.
My Sustainable Restaurant

More About METRO’s Sustainability Strategy

Sustainability is a complex issue. We target our actions on 8 focus areas that affect us and our customers the most and where we create the greatest leverage. Read more about our sustainability strategy and the 8 strategic focus areas in our Corporate Responsibility Report 2019/20.

What’s next for the toolbox?

The toolbox will first be available to our employees in all the METRO countries, so they can use it to support their customers. It deals with the key sustainability issues from the customer standpoint, and offers suggestions and solutions in a modular form that can be adapted to each country. We will now also gradually be making individual topics available to our customers in more compact formats, such as checklists, that highlight simple steps to more sustainability and the direct benefits. That way, customers can put them into action straight away, and hopefully get an immediate sense of how they benefit from improving sustainability. This may be the very practical fact of the money they save by reducing electricity use and avoiding food waste, or cutting down on rubbish disposal by choosing products that are designed specifically with reduced packaging.

And what is METRO itself doing to boost sustainability?

We’ve had sustainability on our agenda for quite some time. Firstly, we are well aware of our need to be good role models and put our own house in order: We make sure operations are as sustainable as possible. In terms of our supply chain and all the stakeholders associated with it, the most important focus for us is on the issues that concern our customers and that we can directly impact. We sharpened our sustainability strategy as recently as 2018 with this in mind, and now deal with 8 strategic focus areas. The corresponding goals are set forth in guidelines and pledges we work continuously to fulfil.

Where can a company like METRO make major adjustments?

When you work on sustainability matters, it becomes clear that you can always affect more change through teamwork. That’s why we have joined groups and entered into collaborations that put us in direct contact with other entities all along the value chain, so we can work on specific issues and make a bigger impact. Ultimately, we’re all in the same boat and we can leverage knowledge better if we work together. To name just 1 example, we can only make progress with complex matters such as implementing supply chains that are deforestation-free and compatible with human rights by working together, such as through our engagement in the Consumer Goods Forum.

What about you personally? Do you have any tips for living and working more sustainably?

I always try to act according to the principle that sustainability is also in the little things, and it starts with me. Not just somewhere out there, but right under our noses. For example, I have to pack 3 lunches for my children every morning. I have to portion everything out so that not too much is left over – but of course, I have to make sure that all those stomachs are full. It’s not easy! When we do have leftovers, I try to use them up or, as a last resort, I compost them. A couple of months ago, I also switched to an electric car as a way to reduce my carbon footprint. Working from home also makes a big difference!

Lena vom Stein

About … Lena vom Stein

As METRO AG’s Head of Corporate Responsibility, Lena vom Stein is in charge of sustainability marketing and communications, among other things. ‘My Sustainable Restaurant’, her latest project, serves as a guide for restaurants and helps them to enhance sustainability in the hospitality industry.

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