Speaking to the editor of MCA Insight James Halliwell at the inaugural Drink Tank conference in London this month (27 November), leaders in sustainability from the drinks sector explained that while the environmental crisis has brought more pressure, it has sharpened their businesses' focus on sustainability.
“Sustainability is no longer a nice to do, it’s a need to do,” Heineken’s corporate affairs director David Paterson explained. “It brings rigour, better understanding and leadership throughout the business.”
Diageo’s sustainable project manager Michael Alexander added that the consumer pressure for stronger green credentials has “made life easier”. “My role was a struggle in demonstrating the business case for sustainability. Over the last two to three years the consumer dynamic has changed”
What’s more, Carlsberg’s sustainability manager Peter Statham added that initiatives such as its environmentally friendly packaging had led to the commercial side of the business really seeing the benefit of sustainability.
Global context for business targets
According to Paterson, setting targets on sustainability is a balancing act between setting ambitious targets which galvanise business and send a message to consumers, but also being realistic and aiming for something achievable.
“We want to set a stretching target but one we believe we can achieve,” he explained. “It calls for a lot more work, effort, rigour and closer loop right the way through your business.”
He added that Heineken’s environmental targets for 2030 will revolve around wider scientific research as opposed to work done in house.
Statham concurs that targets need to be set in the context of what’s happening in the rest of the world rather than what’s happening inside a business, while Alexander advocates targeting specific numbers in a drive for sustainability.
“You have to have a number – a number drives action,” he says. “KPIs drive performance and they’ve certainly done the trick with sustainability."
From ‘barley to bar'
“We’re doing reasonably well – 66% reduction in Co2 emissions in our breweries – but the challenge is that’s a tiny bit of our footprint,” Paterson explains. “If you look at where the big impact is you’ve got to go barley to bar, that’s where the big impact is, in the supply chain. You can only address those challenges by collaborating.”
While he adds that Heineken’s Smartdispense has saved 100m pints of water in the last five years, he states that the drinks giant is only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to the green credentials of its supply chain.
“I don’t think we can ever be satisfied when there’s a climate emergency going on,” Alexander adds, “but the bar is raising quickly. What we were saying three years ago is no longer acceptable in meeting shareholder expectations. It’s far more complex now.
“Science and technology is changing so quickly – understanding is changing so quickly – we need to keep up with that. We need to be in touch with that. We need to grasp the opportunity to get to where we want to faster.”
Opportunity of ‘closed loop’ on-trade
Paterson, corporate affairs director at Star Pubs & Bars owner Heineken, stated that he saw a “real opportunity” in the closed-loop network of beer service in pubs.
“Pubs are the original closed loop network,” he said. “We send kegs to pubs, where they fill beer in reusable glasses, then we get (most of) the kegs back. We already have a loop going in the UK on-trade.
“Can the logistics be cleaner, yes, can the tech be smarter, yes. But we’ve got a great story to tell consumers that the beer they’re enjoying in the pub is a greener pint than ten years ago.”