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What We’ve Learned About Collective Action on Water Stewardship

By 3p Contributor

By Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev

Earlier this year, the global water crisis was rated as the greatest risk to society by the World Economic Forum. Furthermore, according to the United Nations, by 2025, up to 2.4 billion people worldwide may be living in areas subject to periods of intense water scarcity. With worsening droughts from the southwest United States to southeastern Brazil, scarcity presents enormous challenges that go beyond access, impacting the quality of health and socio-economic prosperity in our communities. It also presents opportunities.

As the leading global brewer, we at AB InBev are committed to doing our part to help protect natural resources, such as water, for all users in the communities where our colleagues, partners and consumers live and work.  Our dream is to be the best beer company bringing people together for a better world. Helping create positive social change inside and outside our brewery walls is part of our business strategy.  Our strong legacy of water stewardship across our value chain and within our global communities is just one example of our dream in action.

While substantive reductions in water use are important within our breweries and barley fields, we are also focused on leveraging our scale to help make positive change in our communities. And collective action is critical to helping us make a sustainable impact, be it on water stewardship or beyond.

While each of our partnerships and projects is unique, there are key learnings that have helped us improve processes and strategies, allowing us to make an increasingly larger contribution to water stewardship:

It starts with a culture of ownership. At AB InBev, our culture drives performance and fosters sustainable practices. The same rigorous benchmarks and goals given to business outcomes are applied to efficient management of water and energy resources, as showcased by our achievement of two of our eight global environmental goals three years ahead of schedule. When sustainability is tied to performance, it empowers our colleagues to find innovative solutions through both internal and external partnerships. In this way, the power of collective action not only comes from our own efforts and commitment but also by incorporating the unique strengths of our partners.

It takes public-private partnerships. Our work on the Bacias Program in Brazil aims to better manage critical water basins near Jaguariúna to improve the quality and quantity of available water. The impact of this work has been strengthened through collaborations with The Nature Conservancy, the area mayor’s office, the Jaguariúna Bureau of the Environment, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, the Brazilian National Water Agency and the Piracicaba, Capivari and Jundiaí Watershed Committees. By collaborating with a variety of partners and considering the full spectrum of stakeholders, we have been able to simultaneously align efforts and leverage available resources to have a larger impact. We are now replicating this model across our company in water stressed areas. Only coordinated collective action can mitigate long-term risks.

It requires long-term thinking. More than ninety percent of our total water use is for growing barley and other agricultural inputs used in the brewing process. Short-term thinking is often the enemy of successful social and environmental programs, which is why our culture encourages our colleagues to roll up their sleeves and establish relationships and partnerships that will lead to long-term gains. This long-term thinking is why, in the U.S., we’re expanding our work with local stakeholders and universities to help farmers grow more barley with less water through the development and promotion of an irrigation scheduler program called AgriMet. In 2014, AB InBev funded the installation of six new AgriMet climate stations and incorporated 25 growers into the pilot within our Idaho farming community.  Based on positive results, showing a 9% to 20% reduction in water use for participants, the pilot will be expanded to four additional AgriMet stations in Montana this year.  We are also evaluating a portfolio of scalable projects in key growing regions around the world.

It is through partnerships like these that we are able to make real progress and positive impact, both inside and outside our brewery walls.  Moving forward, we will continue working to sustain the momentum we’ve gained in water stewardship through collective action, improving the way we work with our partners and extending these learnings to other areas of our sustainability work.

Image credit: Royce Bair, Flickr

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