For a beverage company, water stewardship is a business necessity. In 2009, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced a set of ambitious global environmental goals that underpin our growth and performance. As we push toward our target deadline – end-2012 -- we’re focused on ways to accelerate progress.

With global operations spanning 23 countries, our breweries often face very different local conditions and no issue is more locally dependent than water. We evaluate water risk for every manufacturing location and where we see potential risks, we develop plans to reduce them. At the same time, we’ve set a global target – a leading edge water use goal of 3.5 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of production. At the end of 2011, we were down to 3.71 hl per hl of production.

Every brewery is contributing to this goal through our shared operational framework, called Voyager Plant Optimization (or VPO), which helps to set clear, stretch targets in each brewery or facility for essential aspects of our business like quality, safety and sustainability. Employees are formally engaged through a best practice sharing database, monthly conference calls, reporting and global conferences. Having collective goals but enough flexibility to adjust to local realities incentivizes idea sharing and problem solving.

Beyond our management system, what makes more progress possible is a performance-based culture. We promote an ownership mentality – we take results personally – and an atmosphere of openness, transparency and constructive competition. On June 5th, AB InBev will again celebrate the United Nations Environment Program’s World Environment Day. Last year, our global rally day generated more than 700 projects ranging from operational improvements, work with retailers and in pubs, and engagement with consumers and community partners. As part of this, we host an internal global competition among our breweries to recognize outstanding sustainability initiatives that have the potential to scale globally. As the race among breweries unfolds, we identify and share best practices to tackle common challenges – like the “water sheriffs” program, started in Ukraine and then Russia, to monitor areas where water loss can occur in the brewing process; or the waste water recycling initiative implemented in China with local partners.

Each idea gets us a step closer to achieving our global target and helps us to operate more sustainably and efficiently, but it also reinforces that sustainability is essential to our success. Together, a strong corporate culture, incentives and a disciplined operating system can make big changes – and more ambitious targets – possible.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

About The Author

Hugh Share

Hugh Share is Senior Director of Beer & Better World at Anheuser-Busch InBev.