How the business world is leading the charge to save the planet
No poverty, zero hunger, total gender equality. We’re almost ten years out from the United Nations’ ambitious 2030 sustainable development goals—a blueprint to help us with challenges like access to clean water and combatting climate change—and there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Increasingly, businesses are playing a leading role, as more and more corporations and small businesses, alike, focus on sustainability and how they can lend a hand to the planet. Executives across industries are realizing that sustainable practices aren’t just good for the environment, they also help to future-proof supply chains, fuel new product development and build reputation, inside and outside of the organization. The shift comes as consumers increasingly prefer sustainable products made by companies investing in sustainable business practices.
As Krystal Nelson, Founder and CEO of sustainability consulting firm I-Impakt Consulting LLC puts it, “If a company wants to stay competitive, avert risk and retain customers, embracing sustainability can no longer be an option. Companies that choose to forgo integrating business practices that ensure sustainable sourcing, protect human rights, and reduce carbon emissions put themselves at risk with compliance agencies and consumer loyalty.”
Business can lead on sustainability
Many businesses have crafted their own sustainability goals that go hand-in-hand with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by all 193 member states of the UN. Take one example: Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, has a set of sustainability goals it wants to accomplish by 2025. The brewer has set out to save water, support farmers, reduce packaging, and reduce its carbon footprint.
To help, it took a cue from Silicon Valley and set up an accelerator, working with startup entrepreneurs worldwide on real solutions. The startups receive six months of programming, mentorship from top scientists, academics, venture capitalists and corporate sustainability leaders, up to $100,000 to pilot their solution within the supply chain, and the opportunity for investment from AB InBev and partners.
It’s a project that shows how AB InBev clearly sees the new role business can play in today’s socially conscious world. “When people look at companies, they look not only at what you offer in terms of products and services, but what’s behind those products and services,” Carlos Brito, the CEO of AB-InBev, recently told Fortune. “What are the values you believe in. What you’re trying to push in terms of solutions for the community at large.”
In the world of corporate-led sustainability, this program offers an example of early success.
The 21 companies that were selected to join the company’s 100+ Accelerator in its first year are already making headway on a variety of issues, from empowering farmers with new technology to making better use of wastewater.
“At AB InBev we have a long-term vision to build a company to last for the next 100+ years. Brewing the highest quality beer requires the highest quality natural ingredients, which is why we say that sustainability is our business,” said Tony Milikin, AB InBev’s Chief Sustainability & Procurement Officer. “Although we are a global company, our approach is rooted in the communities where we live and work. Through the 100+ Accelerator, innovators benefit from our resources, experience and global reach to speed their progress and scale.”
Corporate leadership, startup power
One of these startups, microbiologist Paul Baskis’s Baswood, is using its energy efficient treatment to clean wastewater, which is then reused. The tech mimics how algae breaks down organic materials in rivers, and it’s helping companies use water more sustainably. It’s a crucial effort, since by 2050, water could become a scarce resource for 5.7 billion people worldwide, according to the U.N., amid rapid population growth and unsustainable water practices. As part of the accelerator, Baswood piloted their technology at the Karbach brewery. By the end of the program, Baswood had successfully treated 75,000 gallons of wastewater for reuse in brewery operations.
Austin-based Accelerator startup BanQu is improving the finances of farmers in developing countries with its blockchain-based software. BanQu founder Ashish Gadnis saw the need for the technology while volunteering in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the U.S. Agency for International Development. He met a mother who couldn’t get a loan to pay for her child’s tuition because banks didn’t consider her paper receipts for her years of barley growing as valid proofs of sale. Now, BanQu’s tech gives farmers transparency into transactions and digital payments on their mobile devices. During the pilot, a few thousand farmers in Zambia and Uganda sold their harvests through BanQu to AB InBev’s local breweries. The tech is helping AB InBev in its goal to get 100% of direct farmers skilled, connected, and financially empowered.
Companies worldwide are also zeroing in on sustainable packaging, a goal also part of the SDGs. For AB InBev, success means getting 100% of its products in packaging that’s returnable or made almost entirely from recycled materials. Brazil’s Rodrigo Oliveira and his Green Mining startup are helping the brewer move toward that goal.
Oliveira, along with Adriano Leite and Leandro Metropolo, created software that uses sales data to find spots where a large amount of post-consumer waste – like beer bottles – is being generated, at bars and restaurants, for example. Green Mining installs a collection hub nearby. Collectors pick up the waste and bring it to the hub where it’s sorted for reuse by the manufacturer or recycling. Either way, the waste is kept out of the landfill. That’s crucial in Brazil, where Oliveira says some 75% of Brazilians don’t sort recyclables and most municipalities don't have recycling collection. During their pilot, Green Mining collected over 200 tons of glass across Sao Paolo, Rio de Janiero and Brazilia.
At startup Earthly Labs, CEO and founder Amy George has set out to solve the climate challenge by converting and avoiding CO2 emissions. The startup’s hardware and software helps breweries capture and reuse CO2, reducing both costs and emissions. Carbon capture is a key technology in achieving, AB InBev’s 2025 goal of a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions. Over and above that, by 2030 Earthly Labs has a goal of capturing 1 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions or the equivalent of 26 billion trees.
"To address a challenge like climate change by 2030, we need a combination of entrepreneurs innovating at breakneck speeds and industry leaders ready to experiment and deploy,” said George. “AB InBev's 100+ Accelerator has provided the perfect canvas for accelerating impact for Earthly Labs’ goal to avoid 1 billion tons of CO2 emissions"
2019 and onward
Next week, the world’s political and business leaders will join together in New York City to discuss economic development, among a huge range of social and environmental issues. Together, they'll be seeking collective solutions toward achieving the ambitious SDGs. Cooperation, urgency and imagination are required if we are going to be successful.
AB InBev and representatives from the accelerator’s first cohort of 21 companies will talk about their innovations and how they’re helping the world at the upcoming Social Good Summit in New York City, Mashable's annual event in partnership with the UN Foundation that promotes the SDGs.
For 2019, AB InBev has set its sights on solving challenges like water scarcity, creating nutritious foods and beverages from its grain and yeast co-products, reducing the harmful use of alcohol, and making packaging more sustainable. Solutions will help the industry as a whole — and the world, as we come together for a more sustainable future.