Stakeholder Spotlight: Hugh ShareOctober 1, 2020 | BIER
Name: Hugh Share, Sustainability/water stewardship collaborator and cycling advocate for people with disabilities
Company: Share Sustainability
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 feel very fortunate at this point in my life to have choices to pursue different passions. Bear with me for a moment because I’m going to start by looking back at my 34-year career with AB InBev, which has greatly influenced how I think about sustainability and in particular, water security. I retired in 2016 and will forever cherish both my 10 years at a brewery and my last seven years working on a global sustainability team. Working at a brewery gave me a realistic view of what would work when implementing global programs later and showed me the importance of seeking feedback from folks (i.e. stakeholders!) on the front line. During my last seven years with the company, I had the opportunity to be part of a global sustainability group, leading environmental and community programs across the value chain. I had exposure to different functions and their leaders, which allowed an opportunity to learn how the company worked. How many people can say their last 7 of 34 years with an organization were the most challenging, rewarding, and exciting? I took what I learned into my consulting practice, Share Sustainability, which I started in 2017 after taking one complete year off (mandated by my lovely spouse and children). I realized my passion for sustainability and water security in particular, still had a lot of flame in it and to be quite honest, I was frustrated at the slow pace of actions towards solving our global water challenges.
I love the outdoors and it has become a part of my daily routine, including riding a bicycle most places. I’ve volunteered for 13 years with a tandem cycling team here in St. Louis that rides with blind and visually impaired children. That program has blossomed into a coalition called Cycle St. Louis, which is committed to creating cycling opportunities for people with disabilities. I currently co-lead this effort. The inclusion of all people in typical activities we often take for granted is very important to sustainable, healthy communities. Just like the climate change and water scarcity/pollution tend to impact vulnerable people the most, mobility and recreation opportunities (and all the benefits those provide) are not easily accessible to this same group, including those with disabilities. When we take care of our most vulnerable, everyone benefits. I think 2020 has made that clearer for more people.
Last, and probably most important, the balance and diversity of my current roles include plenty of time for my family and myself. This balance was out-of-whack at certain points over the years. That’s why I started out by saying I was fortunate.
How has the organization’s sustainability initiatives evolved over the years and what are your priorities for 2020?
Early on we were mainly concerned about compliance and then started realizing that there were huge opportunities for improving efficiencies (material savings and utilities) within our manufacturing sites. That blossomed into diving deeper into these issues across the value chain, including social concerns. You can see the evolution in the different names of corporate functions over the years – EHS, environmental affairs, pollution prevention, CSR, corporate stewardship, and more recently sustainability. It’s been great to see more holistic approaches focused on root causes and where the greatest social and environmental impacts and opportunities lie, which for food and beverage companies, is the value chain.
In 2020, I’m focused on execution at the watershed level by bringing different stakeholders together to collaborate. Companies, NGOs, community members, and governments have good intentions, but need help on the “details of doing.” There is a lot of talk about collaboration, just search for the number of articles about it. In reality, it’s difficult to bring different stakeholders together to work on water issues.
What are your impressions of BIER and what do you feel has been the group’s impact on private sector environmental sustainability?
Anheuser-Busch was one of a handful of founding members, so I’ve known BIER from its first days. The idea back then, of competitors working together to advance sustainability, was cutting edge and in a certain sense, still is today.
I have served on BIER’s Steering Committee and been impressed with the pre-competitive collaboration between members. I’ll never forget a meeting in Avion, France when it just hit me as we were sitting around the table talking about an issue. I thought to myself, “Wow, we are all like-minded and passionate about important sustainability issues and have the opportunity to really make a difference for our industry and the planet.” I believe BIER has shown other business sectors and even its own member companies, how to work together on industry issues. I also believe BIER’s best days are ahead, and I am very optimistic about the organization’s future.
What is one specific area (e.g. topic, work product, etc…) where BIER got your attention and why?
It’s been gratifying to see the water stewardship workstream evolve from accounting and footprinting tools to defining water stewardship for the beverage sector, to its current watershed joint collaboration in Mexico (more below). Along the way, there have been valuable tools and insights, such as True Cost of Water and Performance in Watershed Context. All these tools and processes are available to others, so no matter where you are on the water stewardship curve, there is something to support your efforts.
Share a recent accomplishment of your organization’s sustainability initiatives/achievements you are most proud of and why.
I will always feel part of the AB InBev family and have to say I’m proud to have been a member of the team that boosted the company’s sustainability initiatives back in 2009, shortly after the Anheuser-Busch/InBev merger. We were a small team charged with implementing global sustainability initiatives across the company and value chain….quite overwhelming. At the time, we were producing in 80 countries and selling in more than 120. Our main strategy was to build internal partnerships and integrate, integrate, integrate. Today, sustainability is led by Procurement and has been greatly elevated, and those of us who left feel like proud parents.
More recently, I’m super excited about and proud of BIER’s new innovative on-the-ground watershed collaboration near Guadalajara, Mexico. The concept is to put together local BIER members in a water-stressed area to begin addressing the shared water challenges. BIER had been talking about this for a long time but as you can imagine, this is another whole level of complexity compared to developing tools and guidance documents.
An amazing thing happened when local members first met and listened to each other’s concerns about water issues and passion for helping solve the challenges by working together. In a short time, they became empowered, established their own governance mechanism, and wanted to do more than a small demonstration project – they wanted to have a larger impact! This is important work because companies usually implement watershed projects individually or with NGOs (non-government organizations) and with BIER’s unique approach we have the opportunity to leverage resources and technical knowledge across multiple member companies. Our approach is pretty simple and streamlined compared to other water stewardship frameworks. I think half the battle sometimes is getting individuals to sit together and align on the issues, what meaningful actions can be taken, and the best way to take those actions.
This initiative adds to BIER’s portfolio of Benchmarking, Best Practice Sharing, and Tool/Guidance Development by entering the realm of Joint Collaboration. I believe it represents the future of BIER and other similar organizations and is necessary if we’re going to solve our biggest environmental and social challenges. We must work together and this is one of the best examples I’ve seen.
Nick Martin, BIER Executive Director, and I are extremely pleased with this initiative and hope this project provides an example to other business sectors that if competitors can come together then all businesses can collaborate in water-stressed areas across the globe.
Given there are many worthy water frameworks available, what do you think sets the watershed collaboration project near Guadalajara, Mexico apart in its success?
First, there are tons of great frameworks out there, and the process used to develop this project should be in the portfolio because it’s simple, adaptable, and efficient. Specifically, it addresses the execution gap between the frameworks and making progress.
Working from the bottom up to involve local BIER members, select local execution partners, and engage local stakeholders has made the difference. Those closest to a source of water understand that ultimately their lives and livelihoods depend on it. And that was an important reason for involving stakeholders early on and taking this kind of bottom-up approach. Top-down approaches are absolutely needed – we need good public policies and strong corporate leadership, but, at the end of the day, humans in that watershed still have to execute the plan. For example, the global BIER contacts were critical to establishing this process and engaging with their local operations to gain support and get the right people on the implementation team. At the end of the day, we need both approaches to be successful. Again, I think the process we established helps close the gap between planning and execution. I’ve seen this time and time again throughout my career, whether going from a brewery to a global team, or from a global team to working in a high-risk watersheds around the world.
Lastly, we hope that initiatives like Guadalajara will lead to tackling more complex issues later, such as water policies. The theory is that once companies and other stakeholders learn how to work together, they can have a greater impact by scaling and taking on more complex issues. This is not a one-and-done effort, it’s one that is designed to build on itself to address more difficult challenges, which often aren’t the right place to start.
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?
To mind-meld (I’m a treky) in order to show others how their investments in sustainability and equity (water, climate, better urban design for mobility, healthy communities, food systems, green infrastructure, education, etc.) will yield big benefits down the road for people, the planet and business. Kind of the crystal ball superpower to massively increase investments, NOW!
BIER Publications referenced in this interview:
True Cost of Water Toolkit
Performance in Watershed Context Insights Paper
Performance in Watershed Context – Focuses on local watershed protection, local watershed conditions, and what they mean for your company
Read other interviews with Hugh Share:
Cycle St. Louis
1×10: Hugh Share, Cycle St. Louis, Sustainability/Water Security Advisor
Trailnet Champion: Cycle St. Louis
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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