Member Spotlight: Virginia Covo NaranjoApril 21, 2022 | BIER
Company: Anheuser-Busch InBev
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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’m the global director of climate action at AB InBev, the world’s leading brewer. I’ve been with the company for six years and I’ve been leading our climate agenda for the past four years. I oversee our climate strategy including our 2025 Climate Action Goal, which is to reduce our emissions by 25 percent and work towards our science-based targets, as well as overseeing our ambition to achieve net zero by 2040 across our value chain.
My role involves looking at risks and opportunities from a climate perspective, and asking, “What does that mean for our business?” To do that, I work with a cross-functional team across the organization including agriculture, product cooling, coolers, energy, logistics, as well as our suppliers. Specifically questioning, “How do we engage our supply chain in decarbonizing and joining us in this journey?”
How has the company’s sustainability program evolved over the years, and what are your specific priorities for 2022?
Our sustainability journey has evolved over the past decade as has the ESG agenda in the world. In 2018, we announced our ambitious 2025 sustainability goals which focuses on smart agriculture, water stewardship, circular packaging, and climate action. These goals cover significant material issues and where we can drive local change. Our business relies on a natural environment and we seek to drive economic growth as we solve some of the most pressing issues we face. Shortly after, we launched the 100+ Accelerator program, which partners with startups to capture innovative ideas to accelerate inclusive sustainable growth through innovation.
This past year, in 2021, we took another step in our sustainability journey with Ezgi Barcenas now serving as our Chief Sustainability Officer which elevated the ESG agenda within the organization. December 6, 2021, was an important day for us all as we unveiled our new logo, announced our New Purpose, and also announced our ambition to achieve net zero by 2040.
Collectively, we dream big for a future with more cheers. This vision understands the need to organize for the future. A future that is resilient and drives local and inclusive growth. Climate risks and opportunities inform our short and long-term climate strategy, and we are continuing to focus on action now, while also setting the right direction as we move forward.
Over the course of our journey, the focus shifted from looking within our own organization to questioning what does sustainability mean to the world and what is the impact we have as an organization? Although we are a large organization, we are very local. What I mean by this is that is our supply chains and our customers are local, and we have a huge impact on the communities in which we operate. Therefore, we have a big responsibility with those communities. This propelled our ESG agenda to include a more holistic view, not just looking at social and environmental but how these two elements are intertwined. Therefore, perceiving the climate crisis as a social problem as well, since it impacts human rights and vulnerable communities.
One of our 2025 goals is to have 100% of our direct farmers connected and financially empowered. We work with more than 22,000 farmers across the world producing different crops, including barley, rice, corn, cassava, sorghum, and hops. To meet our goal, we are providing our farmers with tools and a financial identity through different initiatives. By giving our farmers a financial identity, they are part of the system and we can advance their skills through our smart agriculture program. Ultimately, the farmers are learning about proper, sustainable agricultural practices. For example, if we are able to educate farmers in a region like Africa then they are able to increase the yield. So, if you increase effectiveness per hectare, that contributes to our ambition to achieve net-zero ambitions and also contributes to achieving net-zero for the world. This pulls it all together in illustrating how ESG elements are intertwined.
How do you feel being a BIER member will help you successfully address the key areas you are addressing in 2022?
I think that being a BIER member has been very helpful overall. I personally like the Benchmark Report which is an annual quantitative and qualitative benchmark study that examines water and energy use in the beverage sector. I appreciate that it offers a sense of where you are on the curve with the benchmark exercise.
For example, it gives us an idea of where the organization is on the spectrum from a comparative perspective. Are we doing better than others? Are we outperforming others? Or, are we worse compared to others in the industry? The report helps us challenge ourselves to be better. By being a BIER member, we have the opportunity to learn from what others are doing. I think it’s always super valuable.
It has also been super helpful to find common areas of interest to discuss. A particular topic is accounting for cooling, setting standards, and being able to agree upon a methodology and framework. Discussions centered around what does the future looks like for coolers, how do we dispose of the fridge after it has accomplished its lifespan, and how do we dispose properly of the refrigerant and all of its parts are beneficial for us all. That is a very tangible example of how being a BIER member is helpful.
Share a recent accomplishment of your company’s sustainability initiatives/achievements you are most proud of and why.
I am proud of all of our accomplishments and presently, I am most proud of our ambition to achieve net-zero because it was a project that I lead and consisted of a team of well over one hundred people working on it. We defined the road map, each of the segments, and the initiatives that we’re going to do by segment. While we have more work ahead, this has been rewarding for me personally and professionally.
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?
My superpower would be to control nature. I would use it to grow nature properly. I imagine being able to reforest or clean oceans and bulldoze algae and do things that remove emissions. This question touches upon our new ESG strategy and our approach to be local, inclusive, and natural, and how that is embedded into everything that we do.
BIER Publications referenced in this interview:
2022 Benchmarking Report
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.
By BIER [crp]