Paul Bowen Recaps the BIER 2019 Spring Meeting

June 20, 2019 | BIER

Read or listen to Paul Bowen’s recap of the BIER 2019 spring meeting and find his insights on HEINEKEN’s (the host’s) new water strategy, the discussions he enjoyed at the meeting, and more.

Margaret:

I’m Margaret Uttke, Communications Director for the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable, and I’m joined today by Paul Bowen, who is the Water and Waste Water Technology expert for the Coca-Cola Company. Paul is also one of our original founding members of BIER.  We are catching up today on the recent spring roundtable meeting hosted by HEINEKEN on May 8 through 10 at their facilities in Amsterdam.

Paul, given it has been a couple of weeks since the meeting now, what was the most memorable discussion or presentation from the meeting for you?

Paul: 

There were a lot of really good presentations, a lot of good discussion.  As I look back through my notes to try to see what really stood out, I think what stood out was some of the work that HEINEKEN is doing in their new commitments around water and making every drop count so to speak.  I forget exactly what their mantra is for 2030, but they have some very aggressive goals and the way they are approaching that was really, I thought, unique to the way we have approached things in the past.  I think it really sets a new bar for the way beverage industries need to think about water use, water conservation, and water stewardship.  I mean they formed kind of a triangle that deals with stewardship; in other words, balancing the water that they used, efficiency–being as efficient as they can, and then circularity being reusing what they can in their processes.  Although many of us in BIER have talked about that, we have not put it together in the way that they have.

Being a “water guy”, I think that was one of the things that just really stuck out as a way to move the needle forward.

Margaret:

I like it.  I know HEINEKEN put a lot of work into that new “every drop counts” strategy too.  It is always good, and I think you hit the nail on the head here too, Paul, for BIER members to learn from each other in what they are doing, as you all lead the way in best sustainability practices for the industry and beyond.

I know you mentioned there was a lot of good discussion, and there was certainly a lot to talk about.  The agenda ranged from a wide variety of topics.  I know there were discussions around greenhouse gas sector guidance, circular economy issues, that you heard a presentation from WaterAid about integrating WASH into the local water strategies, etc.  You talked about some future scenario planning for climate change and some best practice sharing from Beam Suntory, packaging supplier data, basin collaboration.  You name it.

Paul: 

Nothing was superficial.  Every topic went deep and touched on the heart of what was important.  So, it wasn’t here’s a topic let’s just kind of talk about it at the 100,000-foot level – there was some drill down.  There was some detailed discussion.  There were good questions from a variety of people about how we should move forward in different areas.

Like you said, there was greenhouse sector guidance; what are we going to do from a BIER perspective with respect to that because we have kind of led the way in developing that guidance and then the whole thing around packaging.  That is an area that BIER I don’t say has struggled with, but it hasn’t been in our core attention.  Yet, we all deal with it, and we all deal with it in different ways and we have people like Beam Suntory and Diageo who almost exclusively deal in glass.  Then, you have people like Coke and PepsiCo who deal in aluminum and PET.  Then, you have some of the wine industries that are dealing in glass.  I mean there is such a disparity, and it is really one of the few issues that we haven’t really been able to narrow a scope to an area that we really thought that we could have some work. It is just a very, very difficult issue for this group to tackle from a technical perspective—which has always been the focus of this group.  That was a true challenge in looking at it.

The whole thing with WaterAid, was an interesting discussion.  You could kind of see people figuring out how do we really integrate this into our programs and how do we make it work.  It really goes back to having this as what Coke calls a “golden triangle” which is where you have the public sector, the private sector, and then the social sector all working together to make projects successful, and that is really where we have to focus if we are going to do some of the things that we want to do within those functions.

Then of course, we got into the whole stuff around some of the best practices of Suntory and some of the work they are doing around packaging.  It was a two and a half to three full days of very, very good discussions.

Margaret:

All that being said Paul, what would you say was the most lively discussion topic?

Paul:

Probably the packaging because the work that is being is done by everybody to try to figure out this whole packaging dilemma around waste, packaging, and recycling and how do you handle it.  There was a lot of intense discussion—lively discussion—around how we do this, what it does.  I think at the end of the day we kind of decided to stay the course and maybe try to gather some data, but we had to step back instead of drill down, really be high level with this particular one.

Paul:

There are already groups out there that are doing packaging issues that are much bigger, much broader than BIER.

Margaret:

Speaking about BIER, since we are all about collaborative action and cooperating together–competitors coming together around the same table–what stands out to you the most, Paul, from our work and/or discussions at the meeting as embodying that spirit of collaboration and working on being better together when it comes to affecting our environment?

Paul:

Hmm.  Good question.  The basin collaboration effort is something that I think really is unique to our sector because I don’t know a lot of other sectors where competitors per se might be collaborating to help within a basin, and so I think that effort is something that really speaks to what the group is doing, particularly when we look at the efforts that have been made around water conservation, water best practices, and water stewardship.  The whole effort around trying to really integrate, going back to HEINEKEN, the whole triangle of pieces into one sustainable-type project has really been, and it still is one of those that is very difficult to talk about–meaning sustainability in a watershed–if you are not sustainable in your own facilities. And if you are not sustainable in your facilities and you are not conserving water, you don’t have circularity of water.  It all ties together.

To me, that effort to collaborate within a basin to do some work really embodies what I think this group is all about.  Again, we are approaching it from a technical standpoint, and that is the thing I don’t think externally BIER gets enough credit because most people, if they know of BIER, they know of BIER for the benchmarking work and that aspect.  They don’t understand what the members bring to each other from a best practice sharing and a collaborative effort.  I think I can probably go back and look at some of the things that we have done at Coke and say yeah I picked up this idea at a BIER meeting or this other idea came from a BIER meeting or this came from something that maybe Diageo was doing or Brown-Forman was doing or maybe this came from something that Bacardi was doing or AB InBev.  All those things, it is building that collaboration through technical best practice sharing.  It is just continues to stand out.

Margaret:

Speaking of things that stood out to you, it is almost like you know my questions, Paul.  What were your top three takeaways or things you learned from this meeting?

Paul:

Top three?  I will go back to HEINEKEN’s triangle.  That was something that was really, really quite interesting.

The whole issue that we talked about with WaterAid involving them. One of the things I mentioned to WaterAid that I think we have to move and they were cognizant of it too is we can’t talk about beneficiaries.  We can’t talk about gallons.  We have to talk meeting a need, and we always talk about there were some many gallons replenished or there were so many people who benefited from a particular project.  That is important, but the real thing is what is the progress we are making toward sanitation goals and SDG6 and more.  How is what we are doing moving that needle and can we do more in those areas?

I think the last thing was the whole discussion about packaging and the fact that we really decided that we wouldn’t be looking at tools as much as just trying to focus on data.  You know, what data can we collect and what is the formatting.  If we start getting into tools, then we have to have a value associated with them.  I think those were kind of the three big ones.

Margaret:

I am sure you weren’t necessarily taking copious notes for this part, but what did HEINEKEN do as part of their BIER experience for all of you while you were in Amsterdam?

Paul:

They were fantastic hosts.  First of all, the venue is really good.  They no longer brew in Amsterdam, and so it is held in their old brew house which I actually visited almost 40 years ago as an undergraduate in college on a whirlwind European tour and they were still brewing at that time in that building.  So, it was kind of interesting to go back and see that, but they were fantastic hosts.  The venue was really, really nice.

We got to go through the HEINEKEN experience and see their museum and the story of HEINEKEN.  There was dinner at a fantastic art museum–the Hermitage–which actually shares material and artifacts with the Russian museum in St. Petersburg, so a lot of stuff gets shared back and forth to build collaborative exhibits.  It was just a fascinating exhibit to walk through and look at and, of course, a delicious meal.  The venue for that, the museum itself, was gorgeous.  Then, we finished up the last day out of Amsterdam at their brew site.  Unfortunately, I had to leave a little early that day to meet my wife, but that venue again was a gorgeous venue set out close to their campus outside of Amsterdam.

They were excellent hosts.  Again, they shared very openly what they are doing with their sustainability efforts.  They have really good attendance and really good engagement by the number of people they had attend.  Of course, Paul Bruijn and Ron [Bohlmeijer] were excellent hosts as well.  Amsterdam is just a vibrant and very walkable city to hold the meeting at.  It was quite nice.

I found the meetings with Carlsberg in Copenhagen and then HEINEKEN in Amsterdam have both been delightful because the cities themselves are very walkable, very friendly. You are not coming to Atlanta and this mass of traffic and humanity.

Margaret:

Well, I think for anyone who follows you on Twitter, Paul, you had some very fun…I want to say manhole covers in your feed, among other things on your walking tours in Amsterdam that were quite fun to see.  So, it looks like you had a good time.

Paul:

That is something that is kind of unique.  I am a member of a Facebook group that is “Manhole Covers of the World,” and I have friends that are manhole cover enthusiasts. People do grave rubbings or tombstone rubbings, and they actually do manhole cover rubbings.  So, they carry with them the sheets of paper and the charcoal pencil and stuff like that, and if they see one they really like, they will take a picture and they will stop and do a rubbing of it.

Margaret:

I always learn something new about you, Paul, every time we talk–that you are a manhole cover enthusiast.  Got it!

Paul:

It is one of those things.  It is part of no water.  You know without water we don’t have many things we have.  It is no water, no beer.  No water, no soda.  No water, no coffee.  No water, no alcohol. So, we can’t forget that.

Margaret:

Absolutely!  Circling back on water and back to BIER, first of all, Paul, I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts and giving us a little bit of an insider view into what went on at the roundtable meeting.  Is there anything else that you would like to add or share from your experiences in Amsterdam at the BIER roundtable?

Paul: 

As always, it was a really good meeting.  There is always this sense of cooperation, collaboration, and willingness to share that you get at BIER meetings–I have been to a lot of meetings with a variety of competitors, and you just don’t often see that collaborative effort and feeling.  So, it is always good to see that.  It is a very congenial group.

I think there were a couple of things that kind of struck me at this meeting.  The group has changed.  I think back to 2006/2007 when we had the first group.  So, we are going on almost 14 to 15 years.  Many of those people are not there anymore. It is just interesting to see how the group has changed.

This is one of my last meetings.  I changed roles in the company and am transitioning some of my responsibilities with BIER away.  So, it was a little interesting to see how the group has evolved.  If somebody asked me [at the start], I [would have] said I thought we might have a five- to six-year collaborative effort to kind of get some metrics online and kind of be done with it.  14 years in, I also wondered how the transition would be as people left, as some of the strong forces behind things, the Robertas, the Steves, the Tods moved on–who was going to pick up.  Would their companies still participate?  Would new people still see value in BIER?  Would there still be this effort?

I don’t want to say I am surprised, but I guess I am slightly surprised, [and] very pleased that we have been able to maintain the technical aspects and maintain the value that people see in this type of collaborative effort.  It is such an important area for our company.  So a little pride there, I guess parental pride maybe, in seeing how this organization has and I hesitate to call it an organization but this roundtable has maintained itself and continues to grow.  We are constantly looking for new members, seeing who wants to either come back or join.

That is the final kind of thought so to speak on how I felt at this meeting.

Margaret:

Paul, I appreciate your time and thank you for sharing your thoughts about the roundtable meeting, and it is a pleasure as always.



Avatar 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

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. BIER aims to affect sector change through work focused on water stewardship, energy efficiency and climate change, beverage container recycling, sustainable agriculture, and ecosystem services. BIER members include: American Beverage Association, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Bacardi, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Carlsberg Group, The Coca-Cola Company, Constellation Brands, Diageo, Heineken, Keurig Dr Pepper, MillerCoors, Molson Coors, Ocean Spray Cranberries, PepsiCo, and Pernod Ricard.

Copyright © 2019, BIER. All rights reserved. Best in Market