GRI 303: Water and effluents
The Guidelines on Sustainable Business Practices of the REWE Group applies to all business relationships. It is based on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the conventions of the International Labour Association (ILO), and the UN Global Compact. These guidelines include, amongst other things, requirements for the economical use of soil, air, water and other natural resources. These fundamental values apply both for the company's own business processes as well as for business partners and suppliers of the REWE Group. The REWE Group reserves the right to apply sanctions when the values contained in the guidelines are deliberately and flagrantly breached.
In its Guideline on Water Protection in the Supply Chain, published in 2020, the REWE Group summarises its measures and goals regarding the reduction of water consumption and water pollution. It defines a binding operational framework and is used to make employees and partners in the supply chain aware of the importance of economical water consumption.
Strategy process and implementation
As part of a risk analysis conducted in 2017 as well as other individual hot spot analyses, the topics of water consumption and water pollution were identified as focus issues in the areas of raw material production and production: Water consumption is particularly high for raw material production involving wood, cotton and natural stone as well as in the cultivation of fruit and vegetables. In addition, the production of paper, metal and plastic is associated with high and sometimes inefficient water consumption. Water pollution occurs particularly in the growing of ornamental plants, the cultivation of fruit and vegetables as well as in fish farming. In textile production too, the use of environmentally harmful chemicals pollutes bodies of water and can lead to severe environmental damage there.
Microplastics as well as dissolved, liquid and gel-like polymers pass through effluents into inland waters or oceans and therefore pose a risk to the resource of water. The situation is similar with single-use plastic and plastic packaging which can break down to form microplastics.
With water consumption and water pollution in mind, the REWE Group has defined the following focus product groups and focus raw materials:
To support the responsible consumption of water along the entire supply chain, the REWE Group pursues the overarching management approach for responsible supply chains (see Environmental Aspects in the Supply Chain).
Negative environmental impacts in the supply chain and actions taken
Through the measures it is taking, the REWE Group is striving to reduce water consumption in supply chains and increase water efficiency. In addition, the aim is to avoid water pollution and ensure effective water treatment.
In order to reduce water consumption in the cultivation and production of its private label products, the REWE Group works together with certification systems which oblige its producers to use water resources sustainably in their processes. These include, for example, the Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, Cotton made in Africa, Naturland and GLOBALG.A.P. SPRING.
As part of the REWE Group's Green Production Programme, all producers have had to show an ISO 14001 certificate since June 2020 or undergo a self-assessment which also includes providing information on water consumption. As an alternative to the ISO 14001 certificate, textile producers can also present an OEKO TEX STeP certificate or a Higg FEM Verification. Producers for strategic suppliers that have a high risk in this respect are subsequently supported in training and consulting projects to achieve water savings (for more information, see Environmental Aspects in the Supply Chain). Between 2018 and 2021, none of the 23 production sites were rated as being high risk.
Initiative for survival of the spanish world natural heritage site Doñana
In Spain's oldest national park and UNESCO World Natural Heritage site, the wetlands of Doñana, currently unapproved areas are being used to cultivate strawberries and other berries and are being irrigated with over 1,000 illegal wells. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) condemned Spain in this regard following legal action in June 2021 by the WWF over excessive extraction of groundwater. Despite this, the Andalusian government plans to legalise this agricultural use of 1,900 hectares in the region of Huelva. The European Commission, international organisations (UNESCO, Ramsar and IUCN), scientists, environmental groups and the Spanish government also oppose these plans.
Therefore, on World Water Day in March 2022, the WWF launched an initiative for the survival of the Spanish World Natural Heritage site of Doñana and asked the Regional Government of Andalusia to stop the damage to the World Natural Heritage site caused by fruit growing. The REWE Group has signed the letter. Food retailers from Germany also involved are Aldi Nord, Aldi Süd, EDEKA, Kaufland, Lidl and Netto Marken-Discount. Germany is the most important customer country for early strawberries from the region. The UNESCO World Natural Heritage site of Doñana has been protected since 1969. This illegal use threatens the habitat of migratory birds and rare animal species such as the Iberian lynx.
The REWE Group's Green Production Programme also helps to reduce water pollution: For example, producers for selected suppliers are receiving support with their effluents management through training and advice. This includes the analysis of existing potential for improvement, measures to reduce hazardous substances in effluents, and progress measurements. Also on the subject of water pollution, no risk, and therefore no need for training and advice, was identified between 2018 and 2021.
In order to counteract water pollution in its textile supply chains, the REWE Group has set up a Detox Programme for clothing, shoes and home textiles in its private labels. Within the scope of this programme, water pollution caused by chemicals will be specifically reduced (for more information, see Environmental Aspects in the Supply Chain).
In addition, the REWE Group is setting requirements for the use of pesticides during the cultivation of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as in the growing of ornamental plants, which go far beyond statutory requirements. According to these stipulations, critical substance classes may not be used here. In addition, the REWE Group is limiting the sum of all pesticide residues in the growing of fruit and vegetables. By doing so, the aim is to avoid negative additive effects which can result from the use of different active ingredients. In addition, a limitation of the “acute reference dose” is also prescribed – an amount of active ingredient defined by the World Health Organisation which a human can consume without risk in a day. Moreover, suppliers of fruit and vegetables to the REWE Group must adhere to specific nitrate levels. As part of central chemical residue monitoring, the REWE Group regularly checks for compliance with these requirements.
When it comes to water protection, the REWE Group also works together with certification organisations such as the Rainforest Alliance, QS Qualität und Sicherheit or GLOBALG.A.P. In addition to their own central chemical residue monitoring, these organisations implement extensive preventive measures for water protection. In the area of fish farming, the REWE Group attaches importance to the ASC standard, which requires regular water quality checks and treatment of any effluents produced.
Microplastics as well as dissolved, gel-like and liquid polymers are used in recipes of cosmetic products. For this reason, in its Guideline for Microplastics in Cosmetic Products, the REWE Group defines requirements and measures with regard to the use of these substances in cosmetic products. The aim is to eliminate microplastics – according to the REWE Group's understanding of this term defined in the guideline – from the recipes of all cosmetic products in private labels of REWE and PENNY in Germany. This goal was achieved in 2020. In addition, the aim is to eliminate the focused-on synthetic and semi-synthetic polymers in dissolved, gel or liquid form from all cosmetic product recipes, where this possible without a drop in performance. The complete elimination of the polymers being focused on was just missed in 2021 with 99.9 per cent. The REWE Group is working in close cooperation with suppliers to meet this objective.
In close coordination with suppliers, the company continuously checks its entire private label product range in the area of cosmetics to ensure that new recipes are developed without the use of microplastics. In this way, the REWE Group already managed to free all private label cosmetic products of microbeads, which are used as friction bodies in exfoliators, for example, in 2014.
In order to make orientation easier for consumers, the REWE Group has developed its own seal. It is used to identify private label cosmetic products which are free from microplastics – according to the REWE Group's understanding of this term – and free from the focused-on dissolved, gel-like and liquid polymers.
Plastic in packaging is also a source of microplastics, which can pollute the environment and bodies of water. Therefore, the REWE Group wants to use less plastic in the future by avoiding, reducing and improving packaging. In its three-pronged approach for more environmentally friendly packaging, the REWE Group is aiming to reduce plastic in private label packaging (REWE and PENNY in Germany) by 20 per cent by the end of 2025. Furthermore, additional specific goals for private label products of REWE and PENNY in Germany have been formulated. For more information, see Packaging.
Working together for less plastic in the oceans
Together with NABU and the Dutch company MBRC the ocean (MBRC), the REWE sales line has been taking a stand against plastic in the oceans through its involvement in the campaign “Gemeinsam für weniger Plastik” (Together for less plastic) since September 2020. MBRC uses recycled plastic waste collected from beaches around the world to make accessories and other lifestyle products, and funds further global beach clean ups using revenue from sales. During the campaign with REWE and NABU, ocean bracelets made by MBRC were sold in stand-up displays in REWE stores to draw attention to the project. 2 euros of the purchase price of around 10 euros went to NABU to facilitate environmental protection projects. The campaign raised a total of over 450,000 euros in donations in 2020 and 2021. This money flows into NABU's Meereschutzfonds (Marine Protection Fund), which is used to finance various projects aimed at protecting marine biodiversity and using marine resources sparingly.
Effectively tackling ocean waste in the Maldives
The REWE Group is also committed to avoiding and reducing the waste which goes into the world’s seas, particularly in regions which do not have a functioning disposal infrastructure. On the smaller islands of the Maldive atolls, for example, waste is not properly disposed of. From 2019 to 2020, the REWE Group worked together with its tuna supplier – the food retailer followfood – to support the Maldives with their efforts to counteract the increasing amount of rubbish in the ocean. Measures taken on the atoll of Laamu included the continuous disposal of plastic waste on the islands, the installation of reusable drinking water systems on fishing boats to avoid plastic bottles, and environmental (further) education for children and adolescents.