Member Spotlight: Simon Boas HoffmeyerMay 20, 2021 | BIER
Company: Carlsberg Group
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’m the head of sustainability at the Carlsberg Group. My team and I are responsible for managing the strategic approach to sustainability across our businesses at Carlsberg Group. At a high level, we are working to translate societal trends and reputational aspects, into something that has meaning to every single person that works within different parts of our organization. In that aspect, it is a little bit of a bridging role. Sometimes our role is very practical, where we have the absolutes in expertise within certain areas. Other times we are more of a strategic sparring partner. We also support those with random questions too – because everything is related. In essence, we’re talking about anything from the environmental area to the social area and also to governance and reputational topics. So, with all that said, our sustainability team is in a very important position to influence and cooperate with all the different parts of our value chain and our businesses across the world.
I have been with Carlsberg Group for 15 years working in various types of the same role you could say. Firstly, I started working within corporate communications and company branding. However, my interest was very much on the business development side, and how societal movements are translated into concrete business action. I’ve always been more interested in how sustainability is key to help the business become stronger and better.
From a practical perspective, what does that mean in a substantial way? Well, that is a twofold answer. In one way, that means identifying societal stakeholders’ risks and propose a course of action to mitigate them. That is more or less traditional risk management with the only difference that we are oftentimes identifying topics that might not have a direct impact in the next three years, and therefore these topics might fly under the radar in traditional risk management processes. The other part is the opportunity; and obviously, that’s the one, in my opinion, that is the most exciting. So looking at both our core business processes, as well as, the adjacent ones and including everything from the rules, to the packaging, to the way it’s transported, to the way it’s sold, to the way that we market it, and identifying ways that can make us more attractive to the wider group of stakeholders. That can then, in turn, create value of various sorts.
This can result in everything from increased sales, to making a nice, consumer-oriented, sustainable packaging innovation, to simply saving money from doing things differently in our supply chain. It also means getting access to exciting new technology through partners that might be small startups that can help us rethink the way we work with our suppliers. As such, there’s a wide range of different things that happen within that opportunity space. That is a core part of what the sustainability department should do, seek out opportunities to improve the business, make it more resilient, and simply better. Additionally, it should also help to mitigate any risk from stakeholder and societal influences that the company is exposed to as well.
When we look at our sustainability program, we take our point of departure from materiality. This is something that I always preach because I think it is so important that what you focus on as a corporate entity should take its point of departure in what the outside world believes are the most material topics to you. I will share a couple of examples of what I mean specifically. When we look at the agenda around climate change, it is a major topic that is influencing everyone that operates on this planet, whether they are businesses or a person. But as a brewer, we are actually more influenced by climate changes than many others because we provide a natural product that is fully linked to healthy ecosystems and healthy habitats. As a reminder, Carlsberg Group is not in this for the short term. We’re in this to make beer for the next 170 years as well. Being a foundation-owned company, that is a very big part of why we work with sustainability, both short-term and long-term. Our aim is to make sure that we live up to our founders’ heritage and saying we want to stick around.
Our strategy for the long term involves having our products remaining relevant. This means maintaining access to raw materials at a price that consumers are willing to pay. In our most recent 2020 Sustainability Report, we share how we have assessed each of the topics. Building upon that, we focus on materiality as it relates to a geographic area and specific stakeholders believing it’s important to have a different type of action towards customers and consumers in one area of the world than you do in another location.
Then, of course, they’re also areas of materiality that are similar. So, for example, when we have breweries that are aiming at carbon neutrality, this is globally relevant. We have breweries today both in Asia and in Western Europe that are already carbon neutral and our employees and our stakeholders are reacting equally well to that. However, the local activation might be different.
Ultimately one of the most important key takeaways I’ve learned in my career is that sustainability comes from the mass of people working towards the same targets. It’s not going to be generated from a small sustainability team sitting in a group function. Sustainable progress comes from the collective.
How has the company’s sustainability program evolved over the years, and what are your specific priorities for 2021?
Over the last 15 years, our priorities have changed a lot. Initially, we had a period where we had several larger acquisitions happening. During that period of time, our focus was getting everyone on the same page so to speak. Our interest was in implementing the same policies across the group, developing the culture not only from a country perspective but also from a corporate culture perspective. We focused on building the foundation including policies and ensuring we had reliable data related to our sustainability metrics and goals. The result of that effort established a strong sustainability foundation.
In 2015 when our CEO, Cees ‘t Hart joined Carlsberg Group, we shifted the focus of sustainability impact on the business to a longer-term perspective because some of the changes we would need, required a longer runway for it to take off. That basically meant that for the first time in corporate history, we launched long-term sustainability targets. We did that back in 2017 when we said we have two different milestones – one target to reach in 5 years time and the other to reach in 13 years time. That was a very big shift in terms of the way we had traditionally thought about target setting and how to best achieve sustainability in the business.
We found that by having a long-term target supported by intermediary milestones, it was easier to create a roadmap. This helped us to align our day-to-day activities with our “North Star” providing a means to measure our efforts and ensure we were on track with our goals.
That has been a really important part of having a successful and sustained program for us. Reflecting on last year with Covid-19 and all surrounding the pandemic, we still managed to stay fully on track towards our target. Since 2015, we’ve reduced our carbon emissions by 39% per year. We have also reduced water with an 18% reduction since our 2015 baseline. Our targets for water reduction include achieving a 25% reduction by 2022 and a 50% reduction by 2030. No doubt, that requires a fundamentally different way of doing business and one that raises our ambitions as to what is actually possible to do within our business.
How do you feel being a BIER member will help you successfully address the key areas you are addressing in 2021?
First of all, I think that even though we look at sustainability as something that is critical to Carlsberg Group, a lot of the work that we do on sustainability is also pretty competitive. I think that the BIER platform is really providing us with the only real platform there is to fully align on all the non-competitive issues that we’re facing as an industry. There is also the luxury of being able to align and exchange knowledge and challenges with other sustainability professionals who are working within the same industry and with the same challenges. I also think that when it comes to credibility, it is absolutely key that we, within the industry, measure things in a similar way so that we are not claiming various things that are impossible to compare because we are using different methodologies. While that is not that sexy so to speak, I really feel like the work we’re doing at BIER related to setting standards and agreeing on how to measure is an absolute model for other industries.
Another area in which being a BIER member is helpful is in the joint community projects within the water area. This is an area where we can do much more in the future. In areas where the members have common operations and are facing current and future water stress, is an opportunity to pool our resources and our knowledge to help communities and the people in and around those societies where we operate and have breweries. That just makes all the sense in the world.
The work BIER did on ecosystem services was really helpful. It was one of the first times where I felt we collectively discussed how brewers fully connected to the natural world and we identified a common language for that. That was a pivotal point to acknowledge there are services coming out of the ecosystem. Personally, I liked that idea because it put our Earth’s resources in perspective indicating that we should not take for granted that we have clean air and clean water, and healthy soils. It shifted the corporate focus of viewing natural resources as using this amazing service that we’re getting from nature and from the planet and thinking about it in different ways which encouraged taking nature into the corporate decision-making process.
Share a recent accomplishment of your company’s sustainability initiatives/achievements you are most proud of and why.
The biggest overall accomplishment is that even though we set out incredibly ambitious targets back in 2017, we are fully on track to meet our targets. To me, that is a matter of credibility. Unfortunately, in the past, there have been many companies making lofty announcements and then not really following through. Given that, our setting and meeting our targets, and continuing to do so, is absolutely one of the key achievements. Then, there are the one-of-a-kind or day-to-day achievements that matter as well. One example is placing extreme low-carbon bottles on the market in the U.K. This was a collaboration with a supplier that was also providing bottles to the entire industry. This traces back to our products maintaining relevance. It is exciting to have a low-carbon bottle in the hands of a consumer.
Another example, in our Sweden brewery we are using 100% renewable energy generated from both thermal and electricity. When our labels indicate that the product was produced with 100% renewable energy, that is an exciting prospect because it gives a sense of the future to the consumer where we can all be operating in a carbon-neutral way and in alignment with the ambitious targets of the Paris agreement. Because we are doing it now, consumers, legislators, and others can see that it’s possible. It sends a strong signal. It also sets apart those specific breweries aside from others. We have eight breweries so far operating 100% renewable electricity & thermal energy. This is a strong sign of the future and that is one of those things that I’m really excited about on behalf of both Carlsberg and also in general society.
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?
After thoughtful consideration, I would consider inspiration or eco-inspiration as a superpower. I like the idea of translating sustainability into something that is concrete and measurable and achievable and also exciting for the consumer. The idea of taking sustainability concepts, ideas, goals and translating them into something that people really want to get behind and produce products that consumers want to buy is very attractive to me.
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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