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Global brewer strongly committed to sustainable development

27/01/2010

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SABMiller is one of the world’s largest brewers, operating on six continents in 75 countries. The company has a strong commitment to sustainable development as Andy Wales explains.

As head of sustainable development, Wales is involved in understanding how global issues such as water, human rights and climate change impact his business, helping senior executives understand these priority issues and integrate them into business planning, and building global leadership positions on specific issues.

What role do you see industry playing in climate adaptation?

Progressive major businesses are realising that climate change will have an impact in the long term for food and beverage businesses. It will be evident through water quality and scarcity as well as pressures on land use – such as biofuels versus food crops. It is in our interest to understand how and when this will happen and prevent it becoming a problem for our business, customers or communities. We are proactive and build partnerships to tackle challenges. And we ensure we are as efficient as possible with scarce resources.

Why does SABMiller believe so strongly in sustainable development?

Businesses are a vibrant part of communities. If we run our core business responsibly, we create wealth and employment, and our value chain impacts significantly. For example in Uganda where we employ only about 500 people directly, the employment impact in our entire value chain is about 100 to 1 – or around 50 000 people. Therefore, for us, sustainable development is about growing in the right way, while protecting against risks that could impact our core business.

What are the key sustainable development priorities of your company?

We have ten sustainable development priorities, ranging from environmental issues such as water, climate change and packaging waste, through procurement and supply chains to social issues such as AIDS, human rights, corporate social investment and irresponsible drinking. We believe in open reporting and benchmarking – publishing performance scores for all our operating companies against these priorities on our innovative Sustainability Assessment Matrix (SAM) web portal.

How much has already been achieved?

Over the past four years we have improved energy efficiencies and reduced emissions per unit of beer by 15% – our goal is to halve emissions per litre of beer from the 2008 baseline by 2020. This is a challenge but in line with what we have already achieved. In the last decade, we have come from a much higher water usage – in some breweries up to 10 litres per litre of beer – to about 4.5 litres now and our goal is 3.5 litres by 2015 on average around the world. Apart from resource efficiency, we have done a lot of work looking upstream at how to protect the watersheds that we and our agricultural suppliers depend on. We have active programmes with NGOs such as WWF or the Nature Conservancy in South Africa, Columbia, the USA, El Salvador and Honduras.

Has resource efficiency needed new technologies?

It is half about applying best practice or new technologies for new investments and half about getting people to think day to day on improving impacts in their jobs. Where we are investing in new breweries or capital redevelopment, we make sure we design for the long-term. Given that a brewery will be in the ground for 20 or 30 years, we need to think what the operating environment is going to be in 15 or 20 years, and to have a design that is flexible enough to be upgraded to meet change. And, when you create a clear target and engage the workers on the shop floor, you get significant results.

Are there specific eco-innovations for which SABMiller is responsible?

Last year we introduced ‘light weighted’ bottles in the UK as part of a packaging commitment. We also introduced a new coating for a lighter weight returnable bottle in Colombia. Around the world, about 50% of our volume goes in returnable glass; those bottles go around about 20 times on average – we managed to double that in Colombia through light weighting and improved coating of the glass, working in partnership with the supplier.

How do you see your company’s actions in terms of demonstrating good practice to other organisations?

We have chosen three issues – responsible alcohol consumption, water and job creation in the developing world – where we think we can really lead, working always in partnership with other organisations. There are other areas such as climate change and packaging where we feel we are doing well. But on climate change, as we are not a really big emitter as our emissions are approximately 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year; we believe we are doing well but not necessarily leading the sector globally.

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