In the most recent edition of ESM, we caught up with sustainability leaders across European retail, as part of our 'Sustainability 2024' report, including Mark Maczelka, Head of Communications, SPAR Hungary.
ESM: We’re more than a year into a cost-of-living crisis that has hit consumers hard. To what degree have these financial difficulties influenced consumer perceptions about sustainability?
Mark Maczelka: We have kept focusing on the company’s sustainability vision, even during a year of economic difficulties, such as 2022 or 2023. SPAR aims to further deepen its commitment to sustainability in its relations with employees, customers and suppliers, in order to become Hungary’s leading retail chain addressing sustainability issues.
To be effective, sustainability needs to permeate all aspects of a business’s decision-making and operating structure. How has that been implemented at your business?
Since 2015, our parent company has been preparing a sustainability report together with us, and this year, SPAR Hungary produced its own report for the first time. The processes are managed by a sustainability specialist in the organisation, with a horizontal project approach. Each key area is represented on the sustainability board, which is responsible for organising projects related to the topic.
At the moment, we have more than 50 projects running, and for those that will eventually be integrated into the company’s operations, we communicate about them to customers, partners and employees. The company president is responsible for the area of sustainability, which clearly shows the special importance of the area.
To what degree have you sought to foster collaboration with other businesses, groups, or industry bodies in furthering your sustainability goals?
Together with its customers, SPAR has managed to achieve important results that affect our planet by providing information and encouraging engagement with a number of charity events, business initiatives, and activities promoting healthy lifestyles. From 2019, we integrated these outcomes into a framework that promotes efficiency and transparency.
Through our ‘SPAR – for a Sustainable Future’ programme, our primary focus will be on areas where we have already achieved positive results in collaboration with our partners and customers.
These areas include the environment, health and food safety, employee safety, and supporting underprivileged members of society. Through this sustainability programme and increased presence, we can support future initiatives.
Younger consumers – particularly Gen Z – are sceptical about the sustainability claims being made by big businesses. How can businesses better communicate to this demographic?
The most important thing is transparency. This is why we have created a dedicated website for sustainability topics, as well as preparing a sustainability report, so that we can present our results in the field in an audited manner.
Key results from 2022 include reducing SPAR Hungary’s total energy consumption by more than 3%, compared to 2021. In addition, the volume of generated waste decreased by more than 2,200 tonnes (6.4%), compared to 2021, while, by phasing out single-use plastic bags, the chain’s customers use around 450 tonnes less plastic each year when buying fruit and vegetables. Elsewhere, SPAR is reducing its plastic use by 84 tonnes per year, with new packaging materials used in the logistics department.
We’re now just over a year away from the mid-part of the decade. In what areas do you think we will see a ramping up of sustainability efforts over the next year?
The most important things to do are organised around ESG, not only in retail, but also in other sectors. It is extremely important to reduce our environmental footprint and compensate for what we have, just as it is extremely important to become as integral a part of society as possible and to help where a bridge can be built between the goal and the company.
For all of this, it is necessary to build the area of sustainability as a strategic area into the company’s DNA, so that it affects every step of our operation. The future is about seeing the world from a new perspective, where responsible behaviour becomes natural and normalised.