Executive Director Spotlight: Nick MartinOctober 31, 2018 | BIER
Company: Antea Group
Connect with Nick Martin on LinkedIn
What about BIER inspires you?
BIER has been together for 12 years and is still going strong. The energy brought by the individuals who attend is highly motivating. The daily life of a sustainability director or professional is not easy—there are challenges with resourcing, complexity, shifting priorities, and just getting everything done. When BIER members come together to share and talk at our meetings they are reenergized and refueled to stay their course and keep on doing the great work they are doing while also bringing back new insights and opportunities to their companies. Many members appreciate BIER as a welcome chance to share what is working and what isn’t—and on that note, there is an unprecedented level of sharing within BIER. At the first meetings we held, which I attended and helped plan 12 years ago, most of the competitors sat directly across from one another. Now we have competing members sitting together and openly discussing their challenges and successes without hesitation. We are at a point where members see how big the opportunities are and are pressing for scaled impact and on-the-ground action, fueled by their willingness to collaborate and share.
Another part of BIER that inspires me is our members’ diligent commitment to finding niche areas that need sector focus without duplicating the efforts of other organizations. The last thing the sustainability space needs is duplication! BIER has been great at asking questions before we jump into something: Do we have the right people, attitude, and mindset to take this on? Is it the right time? This is an issue that all companies and groups face—we all have limited resources, and BIER is great at finding the areas that really need our focus.
Which areas of beverage industry sustainability have you seen the most progress in?
Water, most definitely. Many of our member companies and the sector overall have been pioneers on water stewardship and security. It doesn’t take much digging to connect the dots and see the reach and impact BIER has had on advancing water in the beverage sector and beyond. From defining what corporate water stewardship means and coming together to see it as a shared issue, to driving the business rationale for understanding local watersheds and community context throughout the world, BIER continues to have an immense impact on this crucial aspect of sustainability.
BIER has also been a strong model for collaboration. Even though this isn’t a direct aspect of sustainability, it is imperative for finding solutions to global challenges. Demonstrating that even competitors can and should come together has been more powerful than I can even appreciate. Anyone could easily argue that many collaborations have been modeled upon BIER’s pioneering leadership.
I am constantly impressed that even as these other collaborations begin to pop up, BIER remains on-course to solve problems they set out to address and lead their industry, all while inspiring other sectors to face their challenges, too. The beverage sector could have become complacent, given its relatively early successes, but it has not. This is true in nearly all dimensions of sustainability—packaging, carbon, supply chain, agriculture, et cetera. There is a culture across BIER member companies to always be looking out at what will come next and what they need to act on. Now several other sectors, apparel, for example, are coming together and creating their own industry-specific approaches, not just following the general sustainability guidelines that might not be relevant. Before collaborations like BIER, there used to be a lot of negative finger-pointing on sustainability issues. Now, companies and stakeholders are recognizing the reality that everyone has impacts on the planet and must play a role in addressing the challenges we face, which are greater than any one entity can overcome alone.
What does the future of beverage industry sustainability look like?
Having a crystal ball would make my life a lot easier! But, I find there are some issues that are very clear as to where things need to go and others that are less understood. Water, agricultural innovation, and packaging, to name a few, are issues that have clear end goals that can be achieved. We acknowledge that it will take a lot of time and effort to get there, but in general, we can see what success might look like. For an example, with water, there are effective methods to evaluate basin conditions and the main obstacle is the pace by which collaborations progress and achieve scaled impact. However, there are spaces that are still ambiguous. For instance, climate scenarios and disclosure—will reporting remain voluntary, or will requirements take hold? How do companies manage against unpredictable future conditions with high variability like climate impacts? Regardless of what type of sustainability challenge it is, they all require sustained commitment, which the beverage sector has clearly embraced.
An overarching trend is that companies must manage is addressing the impacts of local conditions, from product marketing and distribution to addressing sustainability challenges. Such efforts are limited by the availability of local data to understand context. There is so much variability involved in approaching sustainability between regions and individual locations because of varying regulations, infrastructure, and governance. Even within the United States, every state has different waste infrastructure and recycling models—even within my own neighborhood, we have multiple waste vendors!
My hope is that a lot of the geographies will move toward common approaches to minimize the struggles that come with working across several geographies, as almost all of our member companies do. Right now, companies have different strategies based on each location, which adds a lot of complexity and confusion. In BIER, we want to work together to better define what does “good,” in a sustainability sense, truly look like and apply it to as many places as possible to make the most difference. We want to know what the optimal approaches are—what are the regulations that have been effective, how can we communicate it to everyone involved in a way that inspires change? Essentially, context-based decision making is the future and very complex. There needs to be a balance between exploring new solutions and methods versus leveraging known approaches and getting things done.
What changes do you hope to see in how all industries approach sustainability?
My hope is that more companies and sectors will come together to work at scale. There is a tendency to perpetually tinker with new methods, frameworks, and tools—also known as reinventing the wheel. The reality is that the “wheel” has been designed, we just need to roll it as fast as possible to achieve scaled, meaningful impact. There are still too many one-off initiatives and duplicative efforts. We need less talking and hypothesizing and more action.
Sustainability issues are shared, there is no question. Many companies operate in the same markets and geographies, and now is the time to coordinate efforts for the good of sustainability and security for communities throughout the world. There are only so many big markets, and more and more companies should be realizing that they have shared interests that they could tackle together regionally or locally. Industries have the power to coordinate—from innovative methods like using one company’s waste for another company’s end product—to practical methods like encouraging sections of the supply chain they both share to adopt sustainable practices. We are looking at the greater opportunity to engage with other companies, industries, and communities that face the same challenges in specific geographies I am looking forward to seeing more progress in these local collaborations.
What is your advice for companies just starting their sustainability programs?
I have become a big believer in materiality approaches. Companies get bogged down trying to excel at everything and therefore excel at little. As a company, it is impossible to satisfy all stakeholders. The first step should be to understand what is most material to your business, prioritize, and then define a fit-for-company strategy. This prioritization should then be revisited at defined intervals. Especially for companies in their early stages of sustainability, it’s important to hone in on the areas where you can make the most impact and have a strong focus on those issues. As challenges grow even bigger and become increasingly complex, it’s necessary to be realistic and aim to gain momentum on projects that are truly meaningful.
That being said, companies also need to think boldly. The evolution of Science-Based Targets has really been monumental in this regard. It has forced leading companies to think much longer-term than a traditional investor or reporting perspective and set goals that are currently unattainable but drive a step-change in culture and strategic planning. Such goals also act to elevate the importance of proactive investments in research and development, technology, and innovation, which have a long trajectory to come to fruition. To achieve a 20- or 30-year goal requires investments to begin immediately. The results of this newfound, bold thinking have been immediate. A terrific example is from Carlsberg Group, a BIER member company. Their recent breakthrough on packaging is a game changer. A six-pack doesn’t have to have a plastic ring!
What are you looking forward to when it comes to BIER?
I believe we are at a very exciting place with BIER. A watershed moment, potentially. Our members have uniformly achieved an important maturity point where leadership across companies understands and is fully committed to sustainability.
The challenge is how we fully seize this moment. How do we use our experience, brand influence, and global reach to pursue meaningful impacts well beyond our sector? Nothing is off the table at this point. We have and are looking at pursuing basin level, on-the-ground collaborations [LINK], scaling innovations globally, and working as a sector to engage supply chain partners (in packaging and agriculture, for example).
Twelve years in, we’ve learned a lot, evolved as companies and individuals, and we are really at a point where the majority of our members are well-positioned to be even more aggressive. As I mentioned before, these companies are not complacent. The sustainability movement can be really challenging, and they are willing to use every channel they can, including BIER, to advance it in their sector and beyond. These 17 companies are extremely influential together and have the power and momentum to create real, positive change in the world.
The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector.