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How AB InBev is impacting communities by implementing sustained water solutions

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How AB InBev is impacting communities by implementing sustained water solutions

Since the 19th century, as posited by economist Adam Smith in his book, 'The Wealth of the Nations', the purpose behind any corporate existence has been weighed on the scales of shareholder value, i.e., generating profits. But a business entity does not exist in a silo; it nurtures and sustains the community in which it operates. Often, there's a symbiotic relationship between the community and the corporate entity. Corporates that understand the importance of communities and work in cohesion can reap the benefits of longevity. This community consciousness is not dependent on the size or spread of the corporate entity but on the intent of the entity.

Over the past many years, AB InBev, the world's leading brewer, has been steadily incorporating the ethos of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) within its business, which is evident from the company's ambitious 2025 goals on Smart Agriculture, Water Stewardship, Climate Action, and Circular Packaging. Its Water Stewardship goals are directly linked to SDG number 6, namely, clean water and sanitation for all. This is all the more pertinent for AB InBev since water is the most important ingredient in brewing beers and a necessary resource for agriculture that supplies raw ingredients like barley, hops, and sugar.

Water supply and consumption

Water challenges gain an even greater prominence as existing issues get exacerbated by climate change. Seamless availability of water in the future cannot be guaranteed, especially in countries like India. A significant portion of the water used by industries is in the form of captive reservoirs supplied by underground aquifers. Yet, it is undeniable that India's aquifers—the lifeline of the country—are under severe stress. According to statistics published in the State of India's Environment 2020, the annual groundwater extraction is the highest in India, about 250 cubic km, among all counties globally. The latest estimates by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) published in 2019 shows that among the 6,881 "assessment units" (which include blocks, talukas, and watershed areas), 17 percent are over-exploited, 5 percent are on the verge of over-exploitation, and 14 percent are vulnerable. India is, by far, the largest and fastest-growing consumer of groundwater in the world. In this context, the role played by companies like AB InBev becomes crucial.

AB InBev is not only conscious about the important role it can play as a leading brewer but has been working proactively with the communities to aid in water conservation and replenishment. To start with, the company has formulated a roadmap for the future under the aegis of its 2025 Sustainability Goals. In the case of water stewardship, the company has committed that by 2025, 100% of communities in high-stress areas will have measurably improved water availability and quality.

Over the past few years, the brewer has worked relentlessly to revive dried-up water bodies and construct new ones. Near its breweries, AB InBev has aided the construction of water harvesting structures and provided support by ensuring access to clean drinking water. All these measures have positively impact 25+ village communities around AB InBev areas of operations in India and have created over 1,000,000 KL of cumulative water recharge potential. The company is creating additional water sources and is also continuously working to reduce its water intake. For instance, in the past couple of years, AB InBev has brought down its factory water usage by ~40%. The company aims to further bring down its total water usage by ~60-65%.

The company understands the magnitude of the challenge and believes no one alone can solve the issues facing us. Multi-stakeholder partnerships are key to tackle the water crisis. Hence, AB InBev is working closely with partners such as ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics),Lets Endorse, Force, Jaldhaara Foundation, Ground Water Board, WaterHealth India and other local authorities to improve the water infrastructure across villages through an integrated watershed management approach. This integrated watershed management approach encompasses not just improved water availability in the region but also helps build resilience in the areas by building water storage structures (including check dams, well water recharge infrastructure, rainwater harvesting structures, farm ponds, etc.) as well as water & soil conservation and management to promote climate-smart sustainable agriculture.

An instance of this can be found in the Sangareddy district in the state of Telangana, India. As the area faced lower than average precipitation and droughts, AB InBev (which has Crown Beers and Charminar breweries in the area) worked with the local stakeholders, including ICRISAT (International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics), Let's Endorse, the Ground Water Board and other local authorities to address the water availability issues. By building water storage structures (including check dams, well water recharge infrastructure, rainwater harvesting structures, farm ponds, etc.) and promoting climate-smart agriculture through water and soil conservation and management initiatives in 13 villages, there has been an improvement in water availability and agriculture productivity. Since 2010, when this initiative was launched, approximately 150,000 KL of cumulative recharge potential has been developed and the ground water level has increased by 1.4 m in watershed villages vs the non-watershed villages nearby

In all the places AB InBev operates, the aim is to increase water access to the community and increase aquifer recharge, helping to ensure that sufficient water is stored for household and irrigation use along with enhancing agricultural productivity and profitability through holistic soil, crop, water, and livestock-based interventions along with end-to-end solutions across the entire value chain.

Water is a critical resource for the economic, social, and environmental well-being of our communities. Ensuring all stakeholders are dealt with in fairness with access to clean and quality water, AB InBev has set a new template in water stewardship for the rest of the industry to follow.