Although it is common for companies to push sustainability results by establishing definite, time-bound goals, attaining them is a distinct process for every enterprise. Innovation, investment and operational savvy all play a part in achieving success; but the most significant factor is formulating a vigorous culture of sustainability that incorporates this approach into every facet of the business.
Recently, our company announced that over the past three years we have made noteworthy improvements in our environmental performance. This included reduction of our energy usage by 12%, our greenhouse gas emissions by 15.7%, and attaining a leading-edge level of 3.5 hectoliters of water used for every hectoliter of beer made, posting an 18.6% reduction. These efficiency improvements were all achieved mainly without any major investment in new, sophisticated technology.
Like any global company reach, our worldwide operations face various local conditions. Challenges ranging from the capabilities and age of equipment to the diversity in quality and availability of raw materials mean that choosing a “one-size-fits-all” approach is often impossible. The main approach that can steer a company toward environmental maturity is to develop a culture of environmental conservation and awareness into all aspects of every employee’s tasks on a daily basis.
This idea has been around for a while; however, it is also something that is not often observed in reality. For us, ascertaining that we provide incentives and challenges to our 118,000 fellow workers to make gradual changes in the work environment – big or small, within our more than 140 breweries and soft drink facilities – was the best method to attain our three-year goals. Along the way, we discovered some essential factors in establishing such a culture of sustainability:
1.Elevate sustainability initiatives to the same level as other business-critical functions
Having employees scattered worldwide, it can be hard activating everyone to focus on sustainability objectives. From the boardroom to the brewery floor, we expect people to focus on environmental performance as much as they do on other vital business functions. Hence, companies can encourage all colleagues to stay on the same page – focused on attaining sustainability goals.
Establishing an operational management approach that puts environmental objectives alongside those for efficiency, quality and safety can help to develop coordination on a company-wide scale. We call our management system Voyager Plant Optimizations (VPO), and is custom-designed for our unique operations. A company’s system should include policies, procedures and guidelines to aid teams in performing more efficiently, while giving room for creative collaboration and innovation. VPO has allowed our entire organization to gain well-oiled coordination and is the primary source of our successes in our environmental performance.
The management system also encourages best-practice sharing within the entire company by delineating distinct responsibility for assuring that reductions are reached and allowing for targets to be embraced by all.
2. Encourage global best practice sharing, tailored to local conditions
Companies operating globally often allow every region the freedom to identify best practices that apply under local conditions. However, businesses must grab the opportunity to utilize these acquired lessons in other regions and scale them across the company, as much as possible.
Based on our experience, best-practice sharing can aid regional teams enhance their environmental performance. For instance, our team in China attained the company’s highest region-wide reduction in energy, water and carbon emissions between 2009 and 2012 – 30%, 38%, and 29% reductions, respectively. To help the team in China accelerate their improvement, our global team took the initial progress forward by encouraging best-practice sharing from other regions. Among the new initiatives included were how to optimize efficiency in boiler combustion and how to improve time-of-use management through a meticulous analysis of electricity rate-schedules.
A few months after, our China colleagues reversed the tables and started sharing their own best practices in our global workshops with other Zones. The China team’s approach of continuously benchmarking utilities usage between brewery departments by digging into the energy and water data, for instance, has now been applied to other regions globally. Hence, the lesson gained here is to develop a culture of sustained improvement where colleagues can openly share challenges and solutions and apply them to meet local conditions in real-time.
3. Empower employees to continually drive improvement
We have also found that it works well to encourage all colleagues to behave as if they owned the business. When each colleague treats the company’s goals as their own responsibility and is empowered to act on them, great things happen. Colleagues in our Cartersville, GA brewery exhibited this ownership concept when they decided to adopt a weekly “Water Walks” around the facility to pinpoint areas where water was being wasted. In 2012 alone, these walks succeeded in a total reduction of 49 million liters of water usage.
By sharing the responsibility for achieving targets for sustainability with every colleague and empowering each one to discover ways to improve, companies can achieve a degree of performance and commitment that would not be otherwise possible.
Based on our track record, developing a culture of sustainability that is adapted and valued across the entire company is vital for businesses striving to minimize their environmental impact and to meet sustainability goals. The results can prove that this is so.