Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Carol Clark: I am Global Vice President of Beer & Better World at Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s leading brewer. I am responsible for creating and leading our company strategy for corporate social responsibility, which covers three primary focus areas for our business: well-being/responsible drinking, the environment and the community actions where we live and work. One of the most critical parts of my job is to help facilitate knowledge sharing, making sure that when someone has a good idea or develops a new, more effective way of doing something, that innovation is shared with our colleagues across the world. I’ve been working in this area for 17 years, the past 15 at AB InBev.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
CC: We have a long tradition of social responsibility, which has been central to our business for decades. Some of our earliest work in this area began in the early 1900s with a campaign called “Budweiser Means Moderation.” Last year, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of our Know When to Say When campaign in the U.S. Over the years, we have built on this legacy and now have global programs and initiatives in all of our top 10 markets. Through these efforts, we do important work such as promoting the use of designated drivers and working with experts to help parents talk with their children about alcohol.
Similarly on the environment front, we also have a longstanding commitment. In 1899, we began recycling the spent grain from the brewing process as cattle feed. Fast forward a century, and we publicly announced our first set of global environmental goals in 2009. For us, responsible water use is critical to our business, so we challenged ourselves to reach a water use rate of 3.5 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of production (hl/hl) by the end of 2012, which is leading edge for the brewing industry. We hit this number as planned last year, but we have a culture that emphasizes continuous improvement and are now pushing ourselves even further. We recently announced new five-year environmental goals that, for the first time, go deeper into our supply chain’s water use, with a focus on operations in key barley growing regions as well as watershed protection around our facilities in key areas of water stress. And we’ll continue to challenge ourselves within our walls to reduce our water use rate to a new leading edge of 3.2 hl/hl over the next five years – a savings equivalent to 5,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools!
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
CC: It’s a pretty simple – I try to follow the Golden Rule my parents taught me: treat others as you would like to be treated. But that’s not just about interacting with others. It also applies to interacting with the world around us. We’ve all seen our social norms change for the better over the past few decades. The guy with the lampshade on his head at the party who drank too much is no longer funny. Using a designated driver is now common practice in developed markets and growing in developing markets around the world. Water is now recognized as a precious resource, and we do all that we can to conserve to leave the planet a better place for our children. And today’s kids grow up doing community service projects as part of their schoolwork, and when they move into the workforce, that’s one of the first questions they ask potential employers: what social responsibility actions do you support? Caring about each other and giving back should be baseline.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
CC: “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!” One of my mentors used to say this, and it really stuck with me, and I’ve shared that philosophy with my teams over the years. When working on complex and challenging issues, there are always barriers and risks. But there are also opportunities and solutions to be found. For me, it’s about taking a positive, “glass is half full” approach!
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
CC: We were the first alcohol beverage company to launch global goals on responsible drinking, and we are now tracking our progress, which will be achieved and independently verified by the end of 2014. We worked in partnership with our colleagues around the world to develop our six goals, and this process of setting metrics and evaluating our work has helped us take our responsible drinking efforts to the next level.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
CC: I would go beyond just our industry and ask for a change in how we track and measure sustainability. Reporting and transparency are important to drive self-inspection, which ultimately leads to innovation, improved operational excellence and overall better business management. But in the past several years, we’ve seen a great increase in the number and scope of information requests from NGOs, investors, customers and other stakeholders regarding corporate social responsibility. We’ve also seen a proliferation of different ratings schemes, and on top of that, a boom in consulting services being offered to improve scores. In some cases, it seems like the art of how to complete surveys has become more important than actual performance. Reporting has many benefits, but we’d like to spend more time implementing sustainability programs and less time responding to a disparate list of requests.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
CC: As part of our commitment to the communities in which we live and work, AB InBev supports a “Hope School” in every location in China where we build a new brewery, in partnership with the Chinese government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs or local municipalities. I recently had the opportunity to help launch our donation to one of these schools, which are located in some of the most rural and poorest parts of the country.
Our support helped build a dormitory for some of the students, who would not otherwise be able to attend the school, and we were also able to provide educational materials and school supplies. These are children who generally come from homes that have no running water or electricity. AB InBev is a strong supporter of education across the globe, and through our efforts in China, we are helping young people go to school and be able to have a better life. I have a very personal connection to this work, since my husband and I have two daughters we adopted from China. It was very special for me to see the joy on the students’ faces when we passed out the new backpacks and school supplies and the smiles of the girls when they entered their new dorm rooms.