3 Steps to Build a Culture of Sustainability and Achieve Global Environmental Goals

by | Apr 30, 2013

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While it’s widely expected for companies to drive sustainability outcomes by setting specific, time-bound targets, reaching goals is a unique journey for every business. Innovation, investment and operational excellence all play a part in a successful outcome, but the most important factor is establishing a healthy culture of sustainability that integrates this mindset into every aspect of th e business.

Our company recently announced that we have made significant improvements in our environmental performance over the past three years. This included reducing our energy usage by 12%, our greenhouse gas emissions by 15.7%, and reaching a leading-edge level of 3.5 hectoliters of water used for every hectoliter of beer made, an 18.6% reduction. All these efficiency gains were achieved largely without significant investment in sophisticated, new technology.

Like any company with global reach, our operations around the world face different local conditions. Challenges ranging from the age and capabilities of equipment, to the variety in quality and supply of natural resources, mean that implementing a “one-size-fits-all” solution is often impossible. The only silver bullet that can help a company achieve environmental targets is to instill a culture of environmental conservation into everything every employee does, every day. This concept is certainly not new, but it is also something that is much easier said than done. In our experience, ensuring that we incentivized and challenged our 118,000 colleagues to make changes wherever they could – large and small, in each of our more than 140 breweries and soft drink facilities – was the only way to reach our three-year targets. Along the way, we found some critical elements for establishing such a culture of sustainability:

1. Elevate sustainability initiatives to the same level as other business-critical functions

With employees around the world, it can be difficult to get everyone to prioritize sustainability initiatives. From the boardroom to the brewery floor, the expectation should be set that environmental performance will be emphasized equally alongside other business-critical functions. In this way, companies will be better able to get all colleagues on the same page – focused on achieving sustainability targets.

Developing an operational management system that sets environmental targets alongside those for quality, safety and efficiency can help to drive company-wide coordination. Our management system is called Voyager Plant Optimizations (VPO), and is customized for our operations. A company’s system should include policies, guidelines and procedures to help teams execute more efficiently, while still encouraging innovation and creative collaboration. VPO has helped align our entire organization and is the main reason we have achieved our environmental targets.

The management system can also be used to encourage best-practice sharing throughout the company by assigning clear responsibility for ensuring that reductions are achieved and allowing for targets to be shared.

2. Encourage global best practice sharing, tailored to local conditions

Companies with operations around the world often give each region the flexibility to identify best practices that work under local conditions. But businesses should capitalize on the opportunity to adapt these lessons learned to other regions and scale them across the company, whenever possible.

In our experience, best-practice sharing can help regional teams improve their environmental performance. Our team in China, for example, achieved the company’s largest region-wide reduction in energy, water and carbon emissions between 2009 and 2012 – 30%, 38%, and 29% reductions, respectively. Our global team took the initial progress forward by encouraging best-practice sharing from other Zones to help the team in China accelerate their improvement. New initiatives included everything from optimizing boiler combustion efficiency to improving time-of-use management through a detailed analysis of electricity rate schedules.

After a few months, our colleagues in China turned the tables and began sharing their own best practices with other Zones in our global workshops. The China team’s method to continuously benchmark utilities usage between brewery departments by drilling down into energy and water data, for example, has now been scaled to other regions around the world. The lesson here is to create a culture of continued, sustained improvement, where colleagues can share challenges and solutions openly and adapt these in real-time to meet local conditions.

3. Empower employees to continually drive improvement

Another thing that we’ve found works well is to encourage all colleagues to “act like owners,” and treat the business as their own. When every colleague views the company’s goals as their personal responsibility and is empowered to act, it can have a great effect. Colleagues at our brewery in Cartersville, GA, exemplified this ownership when they decided to implement weekly “Water Walks” around the brewery to identify areas where water was being wasted. In 2012 alone, these walks resulted in an overall reduction of 49 million liters of water used.

By sharing the responsibility for achieving sustainability targets with every colleague and empowering them to make changes, businesses will be able to achieve a level of commitment and performance that wouldn’t be otherwise possible.

In our experience, creating a culture of sustainability that is adopted and respected across the entire company is critical for businesses working to reduce their environmental impact and meet sustainability targets. The results will speak for themselves.

Claudio Braz Ferro is Chief Supply Officer at Anheuser-Busch InBev. Ferro joined AmBev in 1977, where he held several key positions, including plant manager of the Skol brewery and industrial director of Brahma operations in Brazil. He also played a key role in structuring the supply organization when Brahma and Antarctica combined to form AmBev in 2000. He was appointed Chief Supply Officer in January 2007.

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