As the world’s largest brewer, AB InBev is leveraging its global reach while sharpening its local agility to tackle sustainability challenges. Chief Sustainability Officer Ezgi Barcenas explains how multinationals and their local suppliers working together can bring future goals closer to the present.
What are your company’s key initiatives to promote sustainability?
Brewing great beers depends on a healthy environment and thriving communities. What makes us unique is how our products are almost entirely sourced, brewed and enjoyed locally which deeply connects us to the communities where we live and work. That’s why our sustainability strategy is grounded in how we create resilience and support local economies.
We have developed ambitious goals to help build environmental resilience and promote inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods across our value chain. Our 2025 Sustainability Goals, ranging from water, agriculture, packaging, and climate action, aim for holistic environmental and social impact and drive transformational change across our entire value chain. And we know we can’t solve these challenges alone. To help achieve these goals and address shared sustainability challenges, we work closely with our supply chain partners and have also founded the 100+ Accelerator programme to identify and partner with innovative start-ups. So far, we’ve accelerated 36 companies in 16 countries. We have also welcomed new corporate partners to the accelerator. Together, we can embrace innovation and bring change at pace and at scale.
Ezgi Barcenas, Chief Sustainability officer, AB InBev
What are the most exciting, potentially impactful innovations that you're seeing coming through?
One example is our partnership with BanQu, one of our 100+ Accelerator start-ups from the first cohort. It's a blockchain-enabled technology platform that we've implemented in Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania and Ecuador. It gives our farmers security in the delivery and payment process through a digital economic identity that offers them greater access to formal financial services.
We took what we learned from the smallholder programmes and are applying it in recycling supply chains on the other end of our value chain in post-consumer waste collection. We’re implementing the same blockchain platform with BanQu in recycling supply chains in Zambia and Colombia – which offers us greater transparency and visibility to improve recovery and collection while improving the livelihoods of recyclers.
The pandemic has shown just how fragile supply chains can be, making the benefits of local circularity and local recycling supply chains more compelling
It's quite unusual for organisations to put so much emphasis on suppliers and helping them to live better lives. What makes this such an important part of your company’s ethos?
Our brands are deeply rooted in the local heritage in many markets around the world. We have been longstanding partners of those communities. And, again, because we buy, make, and sell most of our products locally, our business success is closely linked to the products and services of local suppliers; the millions of shops, bars and restaurants that serve our products; the talents of a diverse workforce and a thriving consumer base around the world. In short, when our communities thrive, we thrive.
As part of the initiative, you have issued a $10.1bn Sustainability-Linked Revolving Credit Facility (RCF). Could you explain how this will help you meet your environmental and sustainability goals?
The facility has an initial five-year term; it incorporates a pricing mechanism that incentivises progress in key performance areas that are aligned with our public commitments, such as water efficiency, recycled content in our packaging, carbon-emission reductions, and renewable electricity sourcing. It reinforces our commitment to sustainability, both internally and externally.
It also drives us to have even more strategic conversations with our suppliers. We must work with our suppliers in more collaborative ways, not just during the recovery, but also in the innovation pipeline. This elevates the conversation from something that used to be transactional to something more strategic in how you engage across the value chain.
What do you see as your biggest challenges in meeting your 2025 targets?
Recycling supply chains have been disrupted throughout the pandemic because waste management and recycling have not been deemed essential services in many countries. The pandemic has shown just how fragile supply chains can be, making the benefits of local circularity and local recycling supply chains more compelling. Circular thinking can play an important role in the recovery. So we continue to harness the circular economy to create more resilient supply chains with our partners locally.
Don't let perfect be the enemy of good
What's the biggest lesson you've learnt in your pursuit of transformation?
We often have an idea of what perfect outcomes look like. While we strive to achieve sweeping changes, we might risk sacrificing incremental adaptations or daily shifts that create progress along the way. I always remind myself and my team: don't let perfect be the enemy of good. This approach creates more energising and inclusive engagement, which allows for faster learning and greater authenticity that ultimately enables more agile transformation.
And, finally, what advice would you give to any young talent who are passionate about driving change, but struggling to know where to begin?
As a change agent, you're working to influence schools of thought, ways of working or practices that may have lasted decades or even generations. For example, farmers, from generation to generation, may have a certain way of running their business, and here we are telling them, "Hey, there's a new way of looking at this." It’s not easy and it can take time. So, as a change agent, you need to bring in the resilience and, more importantly, the gritty optimism.