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ZURICH, SWITZERLAND
MAY 2021

christine zwahlen,
co-lead migros
plastic hub

What is your background in CSR/Social Impact/Sustainability/Communications if any?

I have been working in the sustainability field for over 10 years now. Developing sustainability strategies on both a general company level as well as a specific material-based level (e.g. plastic) was and still is one of my main duties. In parallel, I have always been implementing strategic projects and initiatives in Migros’ supply chains in the social and ecological context. Through this work on different levels, I have gained a holistic view on challenges but also opportunities within the sustainability field. Between 2013 and 2016, I spent 3 years working at Migros’ sourcing office in Hong Kong, establishing a team of experts as part of the headquarter’s sustainability team. The collaboration with colleagues from different departments ranging from category management, procurement to production and communications has always been a critical success factor. Now, I co-lead Migros’ plastic hub. Our aim is to bring expertise, projects, and experts in plastic (and packaging) within Migros group together to make use of synergies, initiate, develop, and implement initiatives and thus, bring Migros’ plastic engagement to a next level.

What do you do at your organization in terms of CSR/Social Impact/Sustainability, how do you monitor and report (non-financial reporting) the outcomes and what are the goals?
As co-lead of the plastic hub we further develop the plastic strategy and identify new possible projects. Apart from that, we make sure that projects and initiatives are in line with strategic goals. We closely collaborate with colleagues of the communication teams to make sure that what we do is visible to our customers. We don’t understand our role  solely as experts in the field of plastics and ecolog , but also as role models for new forms of collaboration since we share the co-lead beyond the organisational department borders. I am convinced that working on objectives is only possible in a successful way if the “human factor” such as empathy, trust, and individual strengths are considered a top priority.

To monitor our progress, we have clear quantitative goals which we control on a yearly basis. Apart from the scientific baseline, it is also our customers’ feedbacks that give us a good understanding if we are working on the topics that are relevant to them.

 

What do you think does an organization need if it wants to start introducing CSR/Social Impact/Sustainability practices?

Two very important basic principles are:

  1. Identify the topics where your organization can have an impact and your customers worry most about.

  2. Ground your initiatives on a scientifically sound basis to avoid greenwashing.

In addition to that, we all know that an organization must get top-down support from the management for it to be integrated in decision making processes. This is also very helpful to speed up initiatives. However, I believe that it is also possible to start bottom-up, provided that an organization has a relatively flat hierarchy and people have a lot of room to express themselves. From my point of view, it is crucial that a company culture encourages people to go the extra mile and ensures an environment where new ideas and projects can flourish. For that to happen, a company needs a strong purpose; people must know WHY they should go the extra mile. Such a culture must be cultivated; it does not happen by chance. People need to feel appreciation for their work, they need a positive environment, trust, and responsibility.

"Sustainability nowadays requires more than simply improving linear supply chains gradually year by year documenting it in “dry” reports. We need “quantum leaps” to really make a change in the world. With “quantum leaps” I mean new business models, that have sustainability at the core of the business purpose. I strongly believe in circular economy solutions where there is basically no waste generated. For an established big company or corporation, it is a huge challenge to develop new business models without losing earnings from the existing ones."

Do you feel that differentiating yourself through impact has brought an added value to your business and reduces risks? In what way?
Our company has a long and well-known history in sustainability; it is an integral part of our company purpose that is of course evolving over time. With the reach and visibility we have, we always aim for the top in many aspects. The sheer size of our company, we can make a real difference.    

Do you see a change in behavior in your consumers?

Yes, we see that. Customers are more informed than some years ago and hence, are changing their consumption habits. That allows us to communicate in a different way, too. However, it is important to always maintain the scientifically sound basis when it comes to sustainability. What seems to be the most ecological option – e.g. in packaging – in the public opinion is not necessarily true from a scientific point of view. So, we feel responsible to stick to the facts while responding to our customers’ needs and wishes.

How do new technologies and this digital age influence your work? Do you use them?

Corona has changed the way we collaborate and accelerated the use of digital tools – this is true for many companies. Regarding the use of plastics and packaging, however, there was a backlash which – luckily – has not lasted that long. We are implementing our projects anyway since they are still meaningful for the environment and for customers. What we experienced during the last 12 months though was, what I call “applied VUCA*”, and I can say that our company has proven itself as very resilient.

 

*The abbrevation for the terms Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity have been used in recent years to describe the current times and conditions for companies.

 

In your view, what’s the biggest challenge when it comes to marketing CSR/Social Impact/Sustainability efforts to the world in a more active way than merely through your sustainability report?

We have reached times where innovation and sustainability are mentioned in one sentence; this shows that more and more people are convinced that non-sustainable innovations have no future. Or to put it the other way around: sustainability is no longer a topic with which companies can distinguish themselves easily.