AB InBev: business must deliver value beyond profit

The CEO of the world’s leading brewer explains why global companies must take a local approach, how it’s integrated the Global Goals into the business and what needs to happen to accelerate progress on Goal 8

How are the Global Goals relevant to your daily work?

At AB InBev, we know that sustainability is not part of our business, it is our business. We rely on fresh water and on natural ingredients, like barley, corn, rice and hops, to brew our high-quality beers. We source these ingredients from 35,000 direct farmers in 13 countries on five continents. If our farmers aren’t skilled and connected, or if they do not a have healthy natural environment in which to grow their crops, we can’t bring our consumers around the world the beers that they love.

We are the world’s leading brewer, but our beers are largely sourced, brewed and consumed locally. Because of this, we play a big part in fostering the economic well-being of communities, and the only way we’ll continue brewing beer for the next 100 years and beyond is by creating a better world for all of our stakeholders.

How is AB InBev helping people and communities succeed in a changing world?

Our global scale and local presence put us in a unique position to bring about significant change – but we recognize we cannot do it alone. We rely heavily on local insights and action to drive real and lasting results in our communities. We’ve forged many partnerships across sectors to foster entrepreneurship and build strong, local businesses that offer job opportunities to change people’s lives for the better. Together with our partners we’re developing skills, knowledge and resources for colleagues across our value chain, and we are making investments in new ideas and technologies to meet challenges head on – from delivering new solutions for a circular economy, to our work to mitigate the effects of climate change.

What’s an example of your company’s local economic impact?

Small retailers are an important part of our distribution network and crucial to our value chain. But many of these small retailers, especially in emerging markets, often lack the skills and resources to effectively grow and sustain their businesses, especially during economic downturns. Together with our local partners we’ve developed Retailer Development programs in places like Colombia, Peru and Ecuador to provide business skills and access to financial services to thousands of small retailers, including specialized offerings to empower more women-owned businesses.

We also empower our colleagues to support the future of work. For example, in Brazil, the VOA program is an employee-led volunteer initiative that provides management consultancy to non-profit organizations. Through Volunteers Of America we work with social impact organizations all over Brazil to share knowledge and skills to help them grow and succeed. This volunteer program has reached more than three million people so far.

How do you see emerging technologies impacting Goal 8?

More and more we are embracing technology as an opportunity to continually upskill and re-skill people throughout our value chain and improve transparency and efficiency. For instance, in 2018 we partnered with BanQu, a blockchain-based software and service platform, to give 2,000 of our farmers in Zambia access to banking services. The mobile platform gives the farmers their first ‘digital identity’ and ledgers, enabling them to harvest, record and sell cassava, a crop used in several of our local beers. Moreover, this newly acquired financial identity enables farmers to obtain bank loans so they can grow their business and better support their family needs. Since 2018 we’ve expanded this platform to Uganda, India and Brazil - to thousands of farmers and across multiple crops - and we look forward to bringing financial empowerment to even more farmers around the world.

More broadly, we’re also backing the development of disruptive technologies aligned to our company’s 2025 Sustainability Goals through our 100+ Sustainability Accelerator. We launched the Accelerator in 2018 to help us identify emerging technologies that are positively driving sustainable development. After just one year, we are supporting 21 start-ups around the world that are building and scaling solutions to tackle water stewardship, farmer productivity, product upcycling, and green logistics – all with the potential to make a significant, positive impact in the communities where we live and work and to support our business goals for the long-term.

How else is AB InBev integrating the Global Goals into its business?

Last year we launched four ambitious sustainability goals to be achieved by 2025 that are directly aligned to 12 of the UN SDGs. Our goals aim to make a measurable impact within and beyond our own operations by connecting thousands of farmers to finance, technologies and skills; ensuring water access and quality in high-stress communities; partnering with suppliers to increase recycling content; and purchasing electricity from renewable sources while reducing CO2 emissions across our value chain.

As always, we are relying on partnerships with state and local governments, civil society, research institutions, NGOs and other businesses to help. For example, we can only reach our renewable electricity commitment if there’s an adequate supply of renewable electricity sources in our markets. We are already half-way to our goal, but we need support from local energy providers and governments to ensure adequate capacity in all of our markets. Partnerships, as outlined by Goal 17, are essential.

What’s more, we work with public health experts, governments and other partners to contribute to Goal 3 and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target of reducing the harmful use of alcohol by 10 percent by 2025. We are doing this through pilot programs in six cities around the world. We are focused on moving beyond raising awareness to driving real change in our communities, through evidence-based interventions and actions that can be replicated throughout the world.

As a large user of roads around the world, we want these roads to be safe for our communities, which include our colleagues and families. Leveraging on a vast amount of data collected over the years in many different cities, in partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), we recently launched a toolkit that provides governments with a proven methodology to design and implement local solutions to reduce traffic crashes. Our partnership with UNITAR and rollout of the Road Safety Toolkit reinforces our commitment to strengthening global partnerships between the public and private sectors in support of the UN SDGs.

Why should businesses align with the Global Goals?

People no longer judge a company based solely on the products or services you provide. Consumers want to know what’s behind the product, what are your company’s values, what do you care about and support. If you want to be viable for the next 10, 50, 100 years, you have to connect your business to what’s happening in the world and to what your customers care about. For us, water stewardship, smart agriculture, circular packaging, road safety and climate action are not only fundamental to sustaining our business - these actions help communities thrive, economies grow and livelihoods flourish. Our sustainability goals support the SDGs because we know when you bring people together you can create a better world.

Any final advice to accelerate progress for Goal 8?

At AB InBev we are a company of owners. We do what we say, we take results personally and surround ourselves with great people who can help us raise the bar. I like to think anyone – any company, organization or nation looking to bring about meaningful change – can find inspiration in these principles. Seek out diverse talent to bring new perspectives. Encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. Be open to partner with others to join efforts and bring positive change. Develop new skills and challenge the status quo not just on the front lines, but throughout your entire organization.

Carlos Brito, CEO, AB InBev

Next week: Nico Rosberg, former F1 World Champion, GreenTech Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of the Greentech Festival

  • The 2020 Super Year series is a collaboration between freuds, Goals House and Raconteur