Any company with nearly 50,000 products in its range has to really love diversity. REWE Group relies on one supplier who has a virtually unlimited selection: nature. This is why the trade company has committed itself to promoting biodiversity and protecting ecosystems in the regions that produce the goods that fill its store shelves – everything from apples grown in Germany's Lake Constance region to bananas cultivated in Panama.
A hedge in bloom on the fringes of an apple orchard – a place where bees feel right at home and can merrily buzz from one pollen-packed bloom to another. Frequently, however, insects must look long and hard for these lush gardens of Eden because they have become such a rarity. As a result, bees can practically gorge themselves on the blooms of apple trees in the spring. But when the period of June through September rolls around, the tiny pollinators have to settle for crumbs at many fruit farms.
In 2010, this began to change when REWE Group formed an alliance with fruit farmers from Friedrichshafen in southern Germany to Hamburg in northern Germany. Thanks to the wildflower meadows, nesting aids and blooming hedges created by these partners, bees can feast in summer as well. In cooperation with the Lake Constance Foundation and the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), this alliance has committed itself to increasing biodiversity in apple farming.
Dialogue Helps to Jointly
The effort began with 10 farmers in the Lake Constance region. Today, the ranks of the alliance have grown to well over 100 PRO PLANET apple producers who have enhanced their orchards with flowering strips containing such plants as marguerites, mallows and salsify. The key to the project's success is the intensive partnership among trade, farmers and dedicated citizens: REWE Group covers the costs of the activities and the material provided by NABU, which shares its knowledge with farmers. Fruit farmers apply this knowledge to their orchards by taking such steps as preparing the soil for seeding.
"The project is the perfect way to converse with farmers in their role as orchard owner and cultivator, get to know one another better and jointly achieve something", says Monika Hachtel, the member of NABU Bonn who oversees the partnership. She has also noticed that many farmers have a close relationship with nature and offer their own ideas for nurturing biodiversity in their own orchards.
Kestrels and Fruit Farmers Help Each Other
But it takes something more than a flower-covered meadow to create biodiversity – the real key is a variety of biotopes. Such commonplace things as rock and wood piles teem with life. Slow worms and polecats love to use them as hideouts and breeding areas. Dead plants form the basis of life for rare lichen and mushrooms. Some animals are systematically brought in: Kestrels, small birds and bats make their homes in a variety of nesting boxes. Their presence also helps fight pests and thus provides a big service to farmers: A family of kestrels consumes several thousand rodents called voles each year, helping to maintain an environmental balance.
The project also lends a hand to bees: In 2010, environmentalists counted 50 types of wild bees in apple orchards in the Lake Constance region. By 2014, the number had grown to 84 – including three threatened species. Starting in 2015, the wild sisters of honey bees have been able to take shelter in their own homes. In a project called "Blühendes Österreich" (Blooming Austria), REWE International AG began in 2014 to work with the environmental protection organisation BirdLife Österreich to create biodiverse habitats. Blooming Austria finances the preservation and development of threatened natural areas like dry grasslands, nutrient-poor meadows and old meadow fruit orchards. One significant step was taken in 2014 with the introduction of the regional brand "Da komm' ich her!" (I'm From Here). One cent from each sold product of this brand is contributed to the Blooming Austria initiative. The aim is to protect a total of 1,000 hectares – or about 10 square kilometres – of natural areas by 2025.
New Chance for Endangered Species
A quick trip to the other side of the world – to Panama: A sea turtle is laboriously crawling towards shore. Its home, the Amistad Biosphere Reserve national park, covers more than 16,125 hectares and is filled with rivers, lagoons and mangrove forests. Just a few years ago, the turtles' brood was under siege. Their eggs were considered a delicacy, and they served as a major source of income for many people.
Today, the sea turtles are protected by a legion of residents in the province of Bocas del Toro: In the tropical project "San San Pond Sak", REWE Group joined forces with local residents in 2009 to preserve the region's biodiversity. With the assistance of the PRO PLANET banana supplier Chiquita and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the project promotes education about the environment, alternative sources of income for local residents, climate protection and ecotourism – activities that form a line of defence for sea turtles and their habitat.
Protection of Nature and Environmental Awareness Go Hand in Hand
In addition to reforestation and land restoration of a 120-hectare meadow area, project members have developed a far-reaching environmental training programme: 246 volunteers from a number of different backgrounds cleaned beaches and created a protective enclosure for sea turtles and their eggs. As a result, more than 27,000 sea turtles were born in safety between 2009 and 2013. People have also come to the aid of manatees that are threatened in the region. The outcome: No manatees have fallen victim to poachers since the project was launched.
Long-Term Perspective for Local Residents
The tropical project also works to improve the quality of life in the region: The wives of banana-plantation workers have learned how to sew and can make their husbands' work clothes. They also make traditional handicrafts that they can sell or manage their own family gardens. As a result, they are now supplying food to several hotels in the area. This has given them an additional source of income and strengthened the local economy. Tours conducted in nature reserves are increasing tourists' awareness about sustainability. Employees of the Bocas Fruit Co. report about the changes in the province during their self-produced local environmental education radio programme. In doing so, they help inform people about the project's aims.
Project Results Flow into the Banana Fund
From a budget of more than 1.2 million euros, the tropical project promoted environmental education, biodiversity and nature protection in the area: The integration of local residents, environmental groups and government officials played a major role in the project's success. "Everybody learned a lot," said Robert Dilger, who oversaw the project for GIZ between 2009 and 2013. "We are particularly pleased that the project's impact extended well beyond the region itself." In a reflection of this, the experience gained in the project bolstered REWE Group's determination to work on behalf of biodiversity and improved social conditions in other banana-growing regions – including neighbouring Costa Rica. The REWE Group banana fund is providing more than 1 million euros in funding for this purpose between 2013 and 2016.
The steps were augmented by strict production standards. As a result of this change, all farming operations must have Rainforest Alliance certification to guarantee social standards and to keep the environmental impact to a minimum (see Supply chain)
Diversity Creates Holiday Paradises
It does not matter whether travellers are standing just outside their front door or are on the other side of the Earth: They enjoy nature the most when it is in its pristine form. About 40 per cent of Germans want to have an environmentally conscious holiday, according to an analysis conducted in 2013 by the research group Forschungsgemeinschaft Urlaub und Reisen e.V. "This is possible only if we all do our part to jointly preserve and protect the beauty of nature," said Rosemarie Bornscheid-Hoffmann, a DER Touristik employee who heads the area of car travel purchasing in the target region of Germany.
To encourage this way of thinking, DER Touristik focuses on information and sensitisation. As part of this work, it questions hotels about their sustainability activities. In a project called Biodiversity All Inclusive, criteria for preserving biodiversity were developed with the assistance of the WWF and the German Nature Conservation Agency, among other steps. These criteria cover such areas as regional foods, facade greening with native plants and training for hotel employees. The company kept its customers informed about biodiversity in the ITS catalogue, among other publications, and presented selected travel destinations. As part of this activity, DER Touristik publicised special nature experience programmes under the motto of "Nur wer die Natur kennt und schätzt, schützt sie" (Only Those who Know and Love Nature Can Protect It). ITS customers receive discount tickets to such events in Germany as natural park tours in the Ore Mountains region, seal expeditions in the biosphere reserve of southeast Rügen and the treetop trail in the Bavarian Forest National Park.