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Making Sustainable Water Use Operational at Anheuser Busch InBev

by Hugh Share

A year on from the announcement of our global environmental goals, Anheuser-Busch InBev is on track to achieve a global water usage rate that will put the company on the leading edge of the brewing industry.

As the issue of sustainable water use continues to climb the corporate agenda, it has become common practice for leading global companies in the beverage sector to set challenging water use reduction goals as part of their overall business strategies. Once these goals are set, companies face the difficult and complex task of operationalizing their goals – and of communicating the “how” behind their progress to an increasingly watchful set of stakeholders, including investors, NGOs, the media and the general public.

Global Progress Starts with Each Employee
As the world's leading brewer, responsible water use is the cornerstone of our ability to continue to make high-quality products and to grow our business in a sustainable, responsible way. With 114,000 employees in 23 countries around the globe, the key to turning this goal into concrete results is inspiring our colleagues to innovate and share successes, uniting our workforce in pursuit of a shared goal. In order to facilitate this common focus, last March we announced an industry-leading global water usage target that is shared by all our facilities, regardless of location or regulatory structures. AB InBev's plan for water conservation is central to our vision to be the Best Beer Company in a Better World. Reducing our environmental impact is one of three core focus areas, along with promoting responsible drinking and contributing to the communities in which we operate.

Achieving our water use target of 3.5 hectoliters of water for each hectoliter of production by the end of 2012 will represent 30 percent reduction per unit of production in our water usage globally since 2007. [Editor's note: 1 hectoliter is 100 liters or 26.7 gallons.]This is the equivalent of saving 25,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. In the past year, we have reduced our water use by 6 percent globally, saving the equivalent of 16,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water compared with our 2007 water usage levels and putting us on track to achieve our 3.5 hectoliter per hectoliter goal on schedule.

Our global management system, called Voyager Plant Optimization (VPO), is the key tie between our company-level goals and employee engagement. VPO is designed to bring efficiency to our brewery operations while at the same time improving quality and ensuring safety; it also aligns employees’ personal performance targets with our global environmental goals. These targets are shared by all employees, from managers to those responsible for operations.

Synchronizing global goals with employee-level goals has produced a remarkable level of engagement, facilitating the employee-driven low-tech and high-tech solutions that are the true engine of our progress. From China, where our Ningbo brewery has implemented a bottle washing nozzle-narrowing solution engineered at our Cartersville, Ga., plant; to our Wernigerode brewery in Germany, which was engineered to be extremely resource-efficient; to our facilities in Russia and Ukraine, which use employee “water sheriffs” in all plants to deploy best practices learned from other facilities and help employees work together to achieve their water usage targets, employees at our operations around the world provide much of the innovation that forms the “how” behind our global progress.

Sharing Enthusiasm – and Best Practices
Sharing our market-level successes and progress with each other and with our communities by celebrating key global dates is an important mechanism for generating enthusiasm both inside and outside our brewery walls.

Last year, for the second time, our operations around the world marked the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Environment Day (WED), which rallied our colleagues around the globe to generate more than 550 facility and community-focused environmental projects. Over half of these projects contributed to water conservation and watershed protection, and an internal competition recognized the strongest and most impactful projects in each zone, which we then shared globally as best practices. The annual competition has become an important mechanism for ideas-sharing – one that encourages year-round collaboration as our employees become increasingly adept at innovating in pursuit of achieving our shared goals. We’re expecting even greater participation and impact from WED 2011.

At AB InBev, we’ve found the combination of shared global goals, strong identification with those goals at the employee level, and on-target movement toward achieving those goals to be a self-reinforcing engine of enthusiasm, momentum and progress – one that puts even the most ambitious environmental goals well within reach.

Hugh Share is the AB InBev’s Senior Director of Beer & Better World


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