Europe and Central Asia
27 Jul 2016

Sustainability prize for BirdLife Austria & REWE

Trigos gala - Photo: © Thomas Preiss
By Katharina Loupal & Christof Kuhn (BirdLife Austria)

BirdLife Austria and REWE International AG have received the TRIGOS award (an Austrian prize for corporate social responsibility) for the most sustainable national partnership. Their winning initiative – Blühendes Österreich (‘Blossoming Austria’) – won for its success in sustaining high nature value areas in intensively managed agricultural land. 

In Austria, crucial habitats are in decline and several animal and plant species are under threat from human activities, especially intensive farming, which is a result of the growing demand for agricultural products. Food trade, as well as customers themselves, bear responsibility for its impact on the future of our nature. This is why more people are choosing organic products, which minimise the impact on the environment in many ways.

However, to protect nature from being negatively affected by farming, we not only need to reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, but also preserve extensively managed meadows, pastures, meadow orchards, hedges and flower strips. Therefore, BirdLife Austria collaborated with REWE Group, one of the leading retail trade groups in Europe. In 2014, they founded their own brand that offers regional but conventionally produced vegetables and fruits. One cent per package is handed on to the initiative, which is organised as a non-profit foundation.

With the collected funds, farmers and other land owners who are willing to sustain or even improve ecologically important areas are rewarded in accordance with the ecological value of their land. This motivates land owners to protect and enhance the ecological quality, which is monitored by experts every three years. Farmers enter into contracts with the initiative to be able to protect their sensitive areas in the long term. For the first time, customers can therefore contribute to biodiversity with their purchases.

By June 2016, the initiative had 100 land owners with more than 200 hectares under contract. This is projected to increase by 800 hectares by 2025. The long-term goal is to sustain 10% of the land required to grow the REWE brand produce as high nature value areas. This year, Blühendes Österreich is also focusing on protecting butterflies, including the launch of a butterfly app for mobile phones.

Austria is not alone in its efforts to harmonise agriculture and biodiversity. This initiative started as part of the partnership between REWE and NABU (BirdLife in Germany) in 2011. The German focus is on apple orchards, and apple producers in southeast Austria are also at the heart of the Austrian initiative. 

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