"For our Group, but also for Romania, the sustainability approach is very important as part of the business," said Irina Ionescu, Public Affairs & Communication Manager, Coca‑Cola HBC Romania in an interview for Biz Magazine.

The world's most sustainable company in the beverage sector is creating trends, not following them. Irina Ionescu, Public Affairs & Communication Manager, Coca‑Cola HBC Romania, reveals how the largest Coca‑Cola bottler manages this. 

What are Coca‑Cola HBC's projects in the sustainability field?

For us, sustainability is integrated in the business. Coca‑Cola HBC reports annually through a single Group report that includes both financial and non-financial details for all 28 countries in which it is present. The report is sent to the London and Athens stock exchanges, but we also participate in New York under the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. The Group has been named the world's most sustainable company in the beverages industry four times in a row, most recently in 2017. For the Group, but also for Romania, the sustainability approach is very important as part of the business. For a company to be healthy, it must be profitable. The more profitable it is in the long run, the more sustainable it is. In addition to this, a profitable company can take care of the development of its employees and in our case, it has become like an obsession - in the good sense. Because we want the people who work here to feel that they can grow beyond the salary, which, of course, is very important, we also want to offer experiences to employees, not just training. Another direction is the concern to have as little impact on the environment as possible. And last, but not least, we are developing targeted or medium-term programs in terms of community development. These are our main pillars, this is where we start from.

How is sustainability reflected in the business?

We are talking about very large investments. In Ploiesti and Timisoara, we have Combined Heat and Power Plants - energy efficient faucets, based on natural gases, which are reduced by 20-40%, depending on how the factory works. These are investments made in 2009 and in 2017. Incidentally, 98% of the energy we use here is either efficient or renewable. We have indices related to the reduction of water consumption, electricity, especially in the production and storage area. For example, for our coolers we have increasingly strict standards for emission reduction, and the good part is that our suppliers are from Romania and they help us, especially as we buy thousands of coolers yearly. It is very important for us to help develop the economy of the country in which we are present - this is how the Coca‑Cola System operates in the world: we don't produce in one country and sell in another one. Most of the products are sold locally. Romania is a regional hub, but most of the products are produced and sold here and 90% of our suppliers are from Romania. The value chain starts from the farmer who cultivates sugar beet that is refined and used in Romania, to the coolers that are produced here, to the equipment, to the suppliers, to the agencies we work with, to the distributors, to the traditional shops – it is a very long chain. There are packaging manufacturers that come here because we invest a lot. Last year we launched a production line for aluminum packaging in Timisoara, the fastest in Romania.

And community wise?

The most recent program we are running this year is "Youth Empowered", a Coca‑Cola HBC flagship program developed in each country. It is addressed to young people in Romania aged between 18 and 30, who are not yet employed or involved in any form of education and are not employable. We are addressing those who have failed to take the Baccalaureate, this is one of the target groups, and the second group is composed of young people leaving the institutional system. Last year we launched the program and made a call for proposals from NGOs in the field. There were eight applicants, we met with five of them and in the end, we chose Social Incubator because they know how to reach these young people. Six months after the launch of the program, we already had 556 young people in the program and others will come this year. They follow two types of courses: personal development - learning what they like and what they do not and career support courses - how to make a resume, how to talk, how to introduce themselves, how to become entrepreneurs. Last year, the program was held in Vaslui, Prahova, and Bucharest - Ilfov and this year we extended it to six counties. A pleasant surprise was the support of local authorities, who helped us with locations, rooms equipped with what was needed for these intensive seminars lasting three days. Soon we will launch a digital hub where they can access the courses. We also want to bring our partners to mentor them and to speak from their own experiences.

I know the Dupa Noi project has had very good results. What was the reasoning behind it?

The project started three years ago. The factory where we bottle our three brands of mineral water is in the village of Poiana Negri, where we rented a hill of about 1,000 meters, that we have enclosed, so the area of these springs (which are not ours, we manage them, and we operate them through a contract with the state) is as clean as possible. And we cleaned it, so we can get the water out of the ground, not from the surface. I saw how the employees were talking about the water and the area - as if they were located in their yard – so then we worked with McCann agency to develope the After Us concept. We want to point out is what we leave behind - as individuals, as an organization, as a community. We created several episodes, so the world would discover Țara Dornelor from the traditions and tourism perspective. We organized various workshops with over 50 craftsmen to help them promote themselves online, so we equipped an Internet cafe in the village of Ciocanesti, where we started the project.

How does Coca‑Cola generate value in the Romanian economy?

We are in contact with farmers, direct suppliers, other suppliers, distributors, manufacturers. This is a value chain. We periodically develop a study - The socio-economic impact of the Coca‑Cola System and its value chain - that is very useful to us, because we want to understand what our contribution to the Romanian economy is. It is also useful to our employees. The analysis presented in the study is based on an entry-exit methodology developed by Wassily Leontief, a Nobel winning economist. The study is conducted by the independent strategic consultancy Steward Redqueen, responsible for this project for the Coca‑Cola System in over 30 countries. The study shows our influence on an agency, a distributor, a supplier - not to all of their business, but to the business share that was due to us. In Romania, we employ over 1,400 people and for each direct job, we generate 12 more jobs in the local economy. The exact number of jobs generated by the Coca‑Cola System is 19,900. The money generated by this value chain is 448 million euros, of which the contribution to the state budget represents 241 million euros, meaning 0.8% of all revenues to the state budget. And that's our direct influence. This socio-economic impact is an invitation to dialogue: this is what we do, ask us your questions. We are open to a dialogue with anyone. 

What are the challenges on the Romanian market?

This concept of sustainability is not clear for many companies. Bringing together companies, NGOs, media, authorities to talk about sustainability would be useful. There was an initiative – The Diversity Charter in Romania - that we signed from the beginning. Secondly, I think it's about a critical mass: there are still not enough actors to talk about and apply the principles of sustainability in everyday life. And thirdly, the competition is still not solid enough. From a business point of view, first of all, we are talking about consumers and the pace at which we need to adapt to their demands. We work very hard on this because people want products that are suited to their lifestyle - balanced, energetic, dynamic. Another point is the complexity of the business, which requires us to be present everywhere, which means is a lot of work. Then, there’s the predictability of the business environment, which we aim. 

What are your plans for the coming years?

On the operational side, we have goals to fulfill by 2020 and we are working on targets for 2025. On the sustainability side, we focus on education, the environment and communities. It is a strategy we are very keen on and that we continue. And on the business side, we're working on a lot of things that we'll reveal when the time comes.