In Conversation with Lorraine Shiels, Head of CSR & Government Relation at Tesco Ireland

BITCI News - Sep 29, 2016

In this month of our In Conversation with series we are delighted to talk to Lorraine Shiels, Head of CSR & Government Relation at Tesco Ireland .

  • Please describe your role and responsibilities and how many years you have been in the company

As Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Government Relations for Tesco Ireland I lead the development and delivery of our CSR Strategy along with managing our relationships with Government and the public policy agenda. I’ve worked with Tesco for over ten years, joining the company in January 2006.

As Ireland’s second largest private sector employer and the world’s biggest buyer of Irish food and drink, we have a unique opportunity to ensure that we make a positive contribution to the lives of our colleagues, customers and the communities in which we serve.

In my role, I focus on the delivery of our community agenda and CSR governance whilst supporting the business strategically across our programmes in marketplace, workplace and the environment.

 What was your background previously? How did you enter the CSR field?

I began my career at Tesco on the Graduate Programme and worked across Finance and Marketing roles before joining the Corporate Affairs team in 2007 to become part of the Communications team. At this time, CSR started to emerge as a key strand of our business strategy so I was lucky enough to be immersed in our programmes from the very start of my career. Since then I’ve played a role in our CSR agenda in varying capacities, from leading Internal Comms and Colleague Engagement to managing our PR activations and now in my current role where I passionately advocate for the positive impact that Tesco brings to communities throughout Ireland.

  • How has the sustainability/CSR programme evolved at your company?

CSR has truly evolved to become a pivotal pillar of our business strategy, helping to build brand trust and reputation. Initially we focused on sustainability and minimising our carbon footprint, introducing Ireland’s first Eco Store in 2008 and implementing energy saving initiatives across our store estate. This included reducing our carbon emissions through more efficient lighting, heating and refrigeration systems and a new way of thinking with regards to our distribution and supply chain network across Ireland. As we progressed with our plans, this approach to carbon reduction became a way of life for us as a business.

Most recently to tackle our carbon emissions and our food waste as a business we were the first retailer in Ireland to announce an ambition to donate our food surplus to those in need rather than sending it to waste. Through an innovative partnership with social enterprise FoodCloud, we actively donate our surplus food to local groups and charities every day from our stores nationwide, redistributing 2million meals worth of food since July 2014.

With our stores at the heart of the communities we serve, we want to ensure that we give back to those towns and cities in ways that can make a big difference. With that in mind, we introduced the Tesco Community Fund in July 2014 and since then we have donated nearly €2million to over 5,000 local schools, sports clubs, music groups, elderly care homes, animal shelters and much more. It’s a programme that I’m particularly proud of as it enables Tesco as a company to do so much good for our customers and communities. Our charity partnership programme has been a key part of CSR strategy since 2001, and through it we have fundraised over €15million for Irish charities including the Irish Cancer Society, Down Syndrome Ireland, Make-A-Wish and the Irish Hospice Foundation. Our current charity partner is Temple Street for whom we have raised €2milion in less than two years.

Having fun at work through these community initiatives is a key part of our Great Place to Work strategy along with providing our colleagues with world class reward and benefits, fulfilling careers, personal development and more.

Over the years we’ve also built strong relationships with our Irish suppliers. Our supplier development programmes have nurtured our Irish suppliers to grow their capability and capacity within the Irish market and abroad.

  • What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?

In a very fast paced business where our primary focus is on serving our customers and offering them the very best shopping trip, it could be easy to push community engagement down our list of priorities.

Keeping a focus on how our CSR strategy can contribute to business success is key to solidifying its place at the leadership table. Demonstrating how we can increase customer and colleague loyalty by building close relationships with our communities is really important. Our business leaders are truly bought into investing their time to make our CSR strategy as impactful and meaningful as it can be right through our Board of Directors to our Store Managers.

Ensuring our 15,000 colleagues are fully empowered and engaged with our CSR Strategy is also a challenge, however we have a great workforce who really drive our community activities across the business, with passionate advocates for the Community Fund, Temple Street and our partnership with FoodCloud, and their energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

My inspiration comes from the day-to-day interactions I have with the community groups and the partners we work with. Listening to the amazing impact that these groups have on the lives of so many people really spurs me on to be at my best.

  • What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?

I am so proud of our food waste programme and have loved every moment leading on its implementation.  At the end of each day, no matter how well controlled our processes are, Tesco will always have perfectly good food that’s going to waste. Through our partnership with FoodCloud our stores can now donate that food to those who need it most in the communities around each of our stores. We’re now donating over 20,000 meals per week and are enabling our partners to make significant savings on their food bills, allowing them to reinvest into the vital services they provide. I took some time recently to complete a delivery of food donations from a store to a charity group in Dublin who looks after women and children who need a safe place to stay. Seeing the impact that these donations make in a simple way is very powerful.

  • What is your motto in life?

Quoting a Muse song here but it’s definitely ‘Don’t waste time or time will waste you’! I’m a big believer in grabbing every moment and really making the most of it – it’s not just about the big grand gestures but really experiencing all of the little things that make life so great.

  • What would a perfect day entail for you (outside of work)?

Definitely spending time with family, enjoying some good food, a few glasses of wine and a lot of laughs!

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