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Live long…and prosper

Posted by in blog, Homepage July 9, 2014

Imagine a world without beer. Unthinkable. But equally imagine a world where making and selling beer has become extremely difficult as climate change, water scarcity and exploitative supply chains have broken and demoralised communities, and inequality and disenfranchisement are rife. Hardly a conducive context for business.

Which is why SAB Miller have long been lauded in their sector as the progressive brewery. They’ve consistently pushed the boundaries, albeit modestly in an ‘actions speak louder than words’ type fashion consistent with their internal culture of doing not talking. With hundreds of beer brands in almost 80 countries if HSBC hadn’t already nicked the strapline for the financial sector they could also be ‘The world’s local brewery’.

At the launch this morning of their new ‘refreshed‘ sustainability ambition – ‘prosper’ - SAB have stepped things up a game-changing gear. In front of an audience of their peers, investors and many of the great and good from sustainability they made quite an impact. Even the notion of collective, co-creative and mutually beneficial outcomes that is the foundation of ‘prosper’ - “When our business does well, so do the local communities, economies & environment around us. We all prosper” – is an impressive step forward in corporate sustainability aspirations.

But what really sets ‘prosper’ apart is that it doesn’t just embed sustainability into business practices it integrates it into core business strategy. This focus on long term value creation for all is potentially transformative.

Secondly ‘prosper’ is championed across the business not just by the sustainability team but by different business and departmental heads, it is inspired by robust materiality and distilled into five crucial areas of concern and action: To create a thriving, sociable, resilient, clean & productive world through shared opportunities, imperatives and tangible plans.

Crucially it asks massive questions about the kind of world we want to create, and a world in which better beer and brewing can bring benefits for all. It is ambitious and it is systemic, seeking to encourage and support 500,000 small entrepreneurs in it’s supply chain for example through research, microfinance, productivity and capability development and business skills training. This is an ecosystem of enterprise for the many not the few.

But its also adaptable. A global corporate platform that is flexible and can be made bespoke depending on local contexts, cultures and markets. Its where an holistic definition of prosperity can genuinely be achieved for business, people and nature. This is ‘wealth creation’ in it’s truest, broadest sense.

At Futerra we’re extremely proud to have been involved in the sometimes challenging process of getting this idea to really fly. We worked extremely closely with SAB in helping them create the ‘prosper’ identity and positioning and the compelling story that underpins it. It is hopefully great communications, built on a rock-solid foundation of credible, substantive initiatives and tough, trackable and measurable metrics. This is the SAB Miller way.

The real opportunity now perhaps is for SAB Miller to do something it has not traditionally been comfortable with and that is to be a bit more vocal. The world desperately needs truly responsible businesses that are doing well by doing good to challenge the tired narratives around sustainability – that is about costs, burdens, red-tape and constraint. SAB should assert its passionately held beliefs around ‘prosper’ a little more stridently perhaps. It has a lot to be proud of, with more great things to come.

If a powerful business purpose must be transcendent, serving a higher context than the business’s own vested self-interest, which ‘prosper’ most certainly and definitely does, then progressive businesses must also seek to change the context of the world in which they operate. Business must go beyond shareholder value (see cartoon above). As Ted Turner once put it ‘It’s no fun being rich in a dying world’.

SAB will not do this by hiding their light under a bushel. Their responsibility to raising the bar in both their own sector and beyond is enormous. It’s not hubristic, it’s not arrogant, it’s not shouty…it’s necessary. Only when great sustainable businesses are heard will the conversation change and ultimately the world. I always hoped beer was the answer. Now I think it just might be.

So for the Trekkies out there as SAB Miller boldly goes where few sustainability ambitions have gone before let’s hope we all get to live long and prosper. Together. Cheers.

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