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Pioneer of change: How AB InBev is catalysing solutions critical to meet SDGs

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Pioneer of change: How AB InBev is catalysing solutions critical to meet SDGs

The focus of AB InBev's Smart Agriculture, Circular Packaging, Water Stewardship and Climate Action initiatives – exemplifying its commitment to the communities and the environment – is in direct alignment with the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) on responsible production, promoting sustainable agriculture, clean water, and increasing incomes.

The UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 through a resolution known as the 2030 Agenda. The 17 SDGs and their 169 defined targets address various issues, including poverty and hunger, sanitation and clean water, energy, employment, economic growth, innovation and infrastructure, inequalities, climate change, terrestrial and aquatic life, the role of governments, and cooperation between institutions.

The COVID-19 pandemic, not unlike the climate crisis that is upon us, has left an extensive impact across the world and has revealed the perils of taking the natural world for granted. The private sector has an important role to play as we confront this crisis and others, and corporations such as AB InBev are taking proactive steps to lead the change. It has enabled innovations and solutions through smart agriculture, water stewardship, circular packaging, and climate action, all of which are essential for meeting the UN SDGs and halting the depredating of our planet.

Speaking about how sustainability is an inherent part of its operations, Ashwin Kak, Procurement and Sustainability Head, India & South East Asia, AB InBev, said, “Sustainability is not just a part of our business, it is our business and we are using our scale and capabilities to answer the urgent call to tackle the environmental crisis facing humanity at present. Through our ambitious 2025 Sustainability Goals, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we strive to be a positive force in catalyzing change by adopting sustainable methods in our operations. We are working towards empowering farmers, improving water quality and availability in high-risk areas, reducing CO2 emissions by adding renewable electricity capacity to our breweries and deploying innovations to increase recycled content in our packaging. We understand that no one organization can tackle these challenges alone and hence we are collaborating with governments, NGOs and innovators to advance these goals. We rely on a healthy environment and are deeply connected to our communities where we live and work; through these efforts, we aim to build a better, brighter and greener world, not just today but for the next 100+ years.”

Recognizing the need for a convergence of diverse ideas, to ensure a better tomorrow, the brewer launched its 100+ Accelerator program two years ago to mobilize the brightest minds across the world to meet the challenges that the planet faces at present with innovative solutions. Bud Start, another start-up program hosted by AB InBev specifically in India, focuses on unearthing actionable ideas to address sustainability challenges in the country. In 2020, amidst the raging pandemic, the company continued to be focused on creating better solutions that will benefit the communities and the environment. Here is how the company is driving meaningful impact through its 2025 Sustainability Goals.

Smart Agriculture

AB InBev's initiatives surround ‘Smart Agriculture' aligns with the SDGs on responsible production, promoting sustainable agriculture, and increasing incomes (SDGs #8 and #12). The program aims to improve farmers' lives by driving upskilling, implementing digitisation, and financially empowering farming communities.

AB InBev works with more than 1200 farmers and vendor partners across a few key states to procure the best quality barley, while empowering them with technology know-how to enhance livelihoods. The team helps upskill farmers via training partnerships with the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR) and the National Skills Foundation of India (NSFI). In addition to training, the agro team at AB InBev has developed a comprehensive crop protocol that guides farmers on barley cultivation, intending to increase barley quality and yield.

Digitisation is driven by using a digital platform Kisan Hub, which helps the brewer connect directly to farmers and enables agronomists from the company to monitor crop digitally. The field team also uses FOSS and Zoom Agri machines – with technology at the heart of such operations – to enable protein testing and varietal purity during the procurement process. In addition to this, to provide holistic empowerment, the team is currently on a pilot to further improve farming households' incomes by enabling alternate employment opportunities for women in the surrounding areas.

The hallmark of its agriculture-focused initiates is a resilient and sustainable structure which enabled AB InBev to continue supporting farmers even during the pandemic. COVID-19 struck just as the country's farmers were ready to harvest. Harvesting is a time-sensitive process in which farmers collect, sell and transport crops within a short timeframe. But a lockdown meant India's farmers could not hire the usual seasonal workers, leaving families to harvest alone. For an added layer of complexity, closed communities and industries meant that farmers could not sell or trade their crops. At the same time, a lack of onsite storage and concerns such as insect infestation and off-balanced moisture levels threatened the quality of the crops. AB InBev agronomists quickly mobilised to provide storage solutions and safety equipment, while reassuring farmers that they would uphold their promise to purchase their harvest, no matter what. The team was in constant touch with farmers through calls, SMS, and videos, advising them on harvesting and storage and providing updates on government-mandated COVID-19 guidelines.

Once the mandis opened back up, agronomists supported farmers who were still unable to bring their crops to aggregation points by bringing cleaning and quality testing equipment directly to the farm to prepare the harvest for sale. Despite the pandemic and prevailing logistics issues, the season was a success in terms of barley quality and volume, and income generation for farmers.

When we could not initially sell the crops due to the lockdown, the AB InBev teams regularly assured us that they would still purchase the crops, which gave us confidence and hope,” said Lalchand Lumawat, a barley farmer in Lakhani, District Sikar. “They also provided masks and sanitizers to ensure our safety.”

Taking learnings from the success stories in India, globally AB InBev is working towards designing more such farmer support activities in other geographies, with a clear objective to strengthen the resilience of their smallholder supply chains, not just against disruptions caused by the pandemic, but any supply chain shocks in the future.

Water Stewardship

The current rate of groundwater extraction versus recharge is a cause for alarm and if not managed better can wreak an irreparable damage, threatening the socio-economic and environmental well-being of communities.

Understanding this urgency, AB InBev is taking steps to continue to improve water efficiency within its operations and has deployed significant interventions across its breweries and the surrounding areas in four states, namely Maharashtra, Telangana, Haryana and Rajasthan, to improve water accessibility, potable water availability, and creating water alliances. The initiative has impacted people in more than 25 villages and created over ~1 million kilolitres of cumulative water recharge potential.

In collaboration with International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the brewer is working towards an integrated watershed approach in villages around Charminar and Crown Breweries in Sangareddy district of Telangana. In addition to this, it has also forged partnerships with other notable NGOs like Lets Endorse and Force to develop several watershed replenishment structures near its breweries in Maharashtra, Rajasthan & Haryana. More than 44,000 people have so far benefitted from these interventions.

AB InBev also spearheads several water security initiatives within its breweries, including reusing water. It has also set up Water Health Centers in Bengaluru, Karnataka, which has resulted in providing drinking water access to over 100,000 people in high-risk areas of the city.

Circular packaging

Another area that is of great importance to the company is what happens to its product packaging after the last sip. To guide its efforts in this area, the company has set itself an ambitious goal: all its products will be in returnable or majority-recycled packaging by 2025. Already, nearly 98 percent of glass bottles are returnable in India. The beer cans are made up of approximately 76 percent of recycled material, a testament to its efforts towards building a more circular future.

Climate Action

AB InBev has made a commitment that 100% of its purchased electricity will be renewable sources by 2025 and has made significant progress in making the shift to renewable electricity worldwide, including in Russia, United Kingdom, Mexico, United States of America, Australia, China, and India. With this global commitment, AB InBev is poised to be the largest corporate buyer of renewable electricity in the consumer goods industry.

In 2018, AB InBev announced that its Mysore unit in Karnataka has started using green energy, and a power purchase agreement has been inked with Canadian firm Amp Solar for ten years. The brewery in Mysore sources more than 73 percent of the electricity requirement through renewable sources.

Another onsite solar plant was commissioned in 2019 at its PALS brewery in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, wherein, at present, approximately 13 percent of electricity demand is fulfilled through solar. To meet its 2025 goal on climate action, many other onsite solar plants and offsite power purchase agreements are in the pipeline.

Now more than ever, we need to build back a better and more sustainable world, paying more attention to the protection and betterment of our natural world. In this pursuit, it is crucial that companies, governments and individuals come together to design solutions that will benefit communities—not just today but for the next 100+ years. There is no planet B!