Member Spotlight: Andy BattjesMarch 17, 2022 | BIER
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Welcome to our series aimed at spotlighting the individual leaders within BIER member companies and stakeholder organizations. Learn how these practitioners and their companies are addressing pressing challenges around water, energy, agriculture, climate change, and what inspires each of them to advance environmental sustainability in the beverage sector and collectively, overall.
Briefly describe your role and responsibilities and how long you have worked with your company.
I have been with Brown-Forman for over 16 years. My current role is Director of Environment Health & Safety (EHS), and I am responsible for leading the team of EHS experts who ensure that our Supply Chain sites around the world are keeping our people safe and protecting our environment. I also collaborate with our Global Sustainability Director on the development of our Environmental Sustainability strategy and targets and work with the Supply Chain site teams to identify and implement projects that can bring our commitments to life.
How has the company’s sustainability program evolved over the years, and what are your specific priorities for 2022?
In 2021, Brown-Forman released an updated Environmental Sustainability strategy, as well as our third set of public ES targets. One of the most significant changes is the expansion of our targets beyond our four walls and including our supply chain for the first time. Our Environmental Sustainability strategy includes six strategic focus areas: Climate Action, Water Stewardship, Circularity, Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Forestry, and Sustainable Packaging.
A driver for us in the expansion of our targets beyond our owned operations was a recognition that we can’t just focus on ourselves. When we updated the strategy, one of our principles was to use science as a guide for our decisions. Looking at the full life cycle of environmental impacts from the very beginning of our production process to the very end, we find that the vast majority of the impacts, similar to other beverage companies, lie outside of our direct control. We realized that focusing our improvement efforts solely on our company would not create the scale of impact needed; the only way to do that is to engage our supply chain partners to also make improvements. This is especially important in areas such as packaging. We wanted to engage with our packaging suppliers to determine the best path forward to become net-zero. It was important to work together and question, “How do we get there? What needs to change? How can we come together to make our collective efforts easier? And how can we all move faster together?” And that’s really what the driver was behind our targets. We recognize we can’t solve these pressing challenges by ourselves. We’re going to have to collaborate.
Currently, we’re engaging all of our packaging suppliers and working on projects such as incorporating post-consumer recycled content into our PET bottles. We are also working with the University of Kentucky’s agricultural school, some nonprofit partners, and some farmers on a project to see if we can bring commercial rye back to Kentucky, with the goal of incorporating rye into the typical corn-soybean rotation. Of course, rye is an off-season crop. It offers many cover crop benefits including that it helps put nitrogen back into the soil, it provides a living cover over winter, and it helps reduce nutrient loss among other things. So it’s a really good crop, but it typically likes colder climates. Essentially, this is considered research and development in working with local farmers who want to be engaged in this type of work and innovate as we bring back a valuable crop that can help us environmentally, help the farmers economically, and ultimately, be a win for everybody. This Project Woodford Reserve initiative has been really exciting to see.
How do you feel being a BIER member will help you successfully address the key areas you are addressing in 2022?
For me, the power of BIER can be summed up in two words – collaboration and consensus. The different perspectives that each BIER member brings to the table help us expand our thinking and challenge us to be more ambitious by allowing us to learn from our peers who have already been working in the same key areas and helping us see what is possible. Also, working together with other BIER members to align on definitions, benchmarking, and guidance also provides us the confidence that the work we do is helping move the industry, and Brown-Forman, forward.
A tool that the BIER members developed fairly early on was the True Cost of Water Toolkit and for me, that’s been one of the most helpful documents related to engaging our individual production sites. Generally speaking, when you ask a production site to save water, the response is that the projects are hard to justify because water is inexpensive. But the full cost of water also includes the energy to heat or cool it, the chemicals needed for treatment, and the wastewater charges you’re paying. From an engagement piece, that tool has been one of the most valuable because it is very simple and straightforward to use and it also takes an understanding of the value of water to the next level. It is a helpful aid to start thinking differently about projects with environmental sustainability benefits because we start looking for connections to other areas like quality and productivity.
Name one of the practical solutions or best practices you learned in working with BIER and its members and why it was important to you and/ or your company.
As we work towards engaging external stakeholders in some of our key watersheds, we will be leaning on our experience as part of the Charco Bendito project helping to restore a local watershed, remove invasive species, and provide clean water and sanitation to local families. Charco Bendito is a beautiful example of the power of collaboration and shows what is possible when companies, NGOs, and local officials work together in a coordinated way to solve a big challenge. I truly believe that the power of this project is not just the changes it is making on the ground. It provides a real-world example of how change can happen. We will be using this project as a roadmap for our water stewardship efforts in the near future.
Another valued BIER solution is the 2021 Water and Energy Benchmarking Study. Generally, humans are competitive by nature, so being able to compare our water and energy results by means of the Benchmarking study to identify how we compare with others in our same industry is helpful. This tool also provides an opportunity to engage with others. For example, one area that we’ve been able to use the benchmarking process was to engage with the Kentucky Distillers Association and have some of the small, medium-sized producers contribute their data to this report. As a result, they can now use the benchmarking results to evaluate their performance on these topics and it gives the BIER membership a more inclusive dataset.
Share a recent accomplishment of your company’s sustainability initiatives/achievements you are most proud of and why.
I have two. The first is the start-up of the East Fork Wind project in April 2020 and the power purchase agreement (PPA) we signed to provide our U.S. operations with large-scale renewable electricity. To get approval, I had to engage many different groups in B-F that had not been involved in a sustainability or renewable energy project before. This helped engage key internal stakeholders and show the power of sustainable business practices.
The second was the launch of our updated Environmental Sustainability strategy last year, which included an improved governance model with oversight by the Board of Directors and approval of the new strategy by the Executive Leadership Team. Our new strategy has energized teams across the company and led to new opportunities for sustainability projects with our brand and market teams, which will accelerate our efforts.
Building on that, an interesting thing to note is that when we shared the updated sustainability strategy last year, it was encouraging to experience overwhelming support from our internal teams. It was as if we finally opened the door, so to speak. All of a sudden, teams that had never asked any sort of environmental-related questions were suddenly messaging myself and my colleague, Suzette Carty, Director of Global Sustainability at Brown-Forman, with sustainability project ideas. It’s grown from there to also include brand teams in the country, marketing teams, and the sales teams who are now bringing more ideas to the table. Obviously, there was interest and passion that seemed to be just below the surface waiting for a signal, and now that they have it, they can’t be contained! That’s been really exciting personally for me to see.
If you had one superpower that could be used to radically accelerate and scale sustainable best practices, which one would it be, and how would you use it?
For my sustainability superpower, I would choose super speed. While we need to be collaborative and thoughtful in our decision-making and planning, once we’ve decided on a course of action it would be really helpful to just be able to make everything go faster. The faster we can implement solutions, the sooner we will see benefits to people and the planet – and given the scale of the challenges we are facing, especially related to climate and water, the faster we all need to move.
BIER Publications referenced in this interview:
True Cost of Water Toolkit
2021 Water and Energy Benchmarking Study
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.
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