CELEBRATING LIFE EVERYDAY, EVERYWHERE
William Ford Jr, Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company, and great grandson of the company’s legendary founder Henry Ford made a prescient observation about what separates great companies from good companies in the modern age. He said: “a good company delivers excellent products and services, and a great company does all that and strives to make the world a better place.”
Ford’s sentiments represent the new way of thinking among modern business leaders. The operating principle in corporate boardrooms and senior management teams today is that businesses exist not only to make profits for shareholders, but also to improve the wellbeing of employees, customers, partners, and society at large. This thinking has made business sustainability–the idea that business must do well for shareholders while doing good for the environment and the society in which it operates–a business imperative for both large and small enterprises around the world.
Kenya has not been left behind in this global revolution. Sustainability in business is now top on the agenda for many corporates in the country. It is fitting that one of the firms leading the charge is East African Breweries Limited (EABL), a leading alcohol beverage company that enjoys the unique distinction of being one of Kenya’s longest running businesses. Founded in 1922, EABL has built an extensive network of breweries, distilleries and distribution facilities across East Africa and has a rich portfolio of more than 40 brands that range from beer, spirits, and adult non-alcoholic drinks.
EABL has been intentional about integrating sustainability into its business. Rather than make sustainability a nice-to-have–as some firms sadly do, reducing sustainability to choreographed photo opportunities that boast of one-off donations–EABL has made sustainability a core part of its strategy and operations. From the sourcing of raw materials such as barley and sorghum, to the processing of these materials into final goods for distribution, the business has redesigned its value chain at every level to ensure it creates shared value for itself and its stakeholders while also protecting the natural environment.
Redesigning the value chain
EABL has been able to build positive trust with farmers through the Grain-to-Glass sustainability strategy that directly supports more than 60,000 farmers in East Africa. This support has seen EABL play an instrumental role in alleviating poverty in rural farming communities. There is evidence that agricultural growth has a high poverty reduction payoff. The World Bank notes that investment in agriculture is 2.5 to 3.0 times more effective in increasing the income of the poor than is nonagricultural investment.
Besides offering direct support to farmers, EABL is also investing in the natural environment in farming communities and other areas across East Africa in need of environmental conservation efforts. For example, the company surpassed its 2020 water replenishment Kenya target to deliver 176,438 cubic metres against a target of 171,000 cubic metres. Three significant projects in Manyara and Mara regions of Tanzania also helped the business hit its 2020 target of 102,000 cubic meters in the country. In Uganda, it successfully launched its Running Out of Trees (ROOT) campaign to drive awareness and private sector partnership in the national reforestation agenda to plant 40 million trees.
EABL in 2019 further announced environmental investments in biomass and solar in three key East African brewing sites. The investments have reduced carbon emissions by 42,000 tonnes a year and helped create over 900 jobs, including among farming communities that supply the biomass fuel. The company is also committed to maintaining zero waste to landfill and has done so by substantially reducing waste generation and managing chemicals and waste in an environmentally friendly manner.
“As a responsible corporate citizen, we have an important role to play in helping the communities where we live and work to thrive. Therefore, we are focused on the issues we believe matter most in the communities where we source our raw materials and where we make and sell our products. We take great care to build sustainable supply chains and work hard to protect the environment and the natural resources on which we rely,” states Dr. Martin Oduor-Otieno, the Group Board Chairman, in a statement published in EABL’s Annual Report for 2020.
EABL’s commitment to sustainability has received global acclaim. Kenya Breweries Limited, one of the Group’s subsidiaries, was named Private Sector Winner of the 2020 SDGs Kenya Awards and recognized by the Sustainable Development Goals Forum in Kenya (2020) for mainstreaming the SDGs in its business model. This is an important accolade given the centrality of the SDGs in global development discourse today–a trend that is set to grow as we draw closer to the 2030 deadline for the attainment of the goals.
To promote responsible drinking, EABL has rolled out several initiatives to educate consumers on alcohol misuse and the importance of moderation. Some of these programmes include Heshima, Join The Pact, DrinkIQ and Under 18 Asipewe. This is responsibility at the highest level.
Launched in 2017, Project Heshima has been particularly impactful and is worth highlighting. It is an entrepreneurship and vocational training programme targeting youth and women who are at risk of falling prey to illicit brew consumption and production by equipping them with practical skills to enable them to earn a decent living through productive and dignified work. This is transforming the lives of people.
Given the pervasive problem of illicit brews in low-income neighborhoods and the huge technical skills gap in Kenya, Project Heshima has proven to be highly impactful in solving two serious problems in our society–alcoholism and unemployment. Over1,400 women and youth across 10 counties have received training in the last two years and benefitted from this project.
EABL continues to invest hundreds of millions of shillings every year behind its different sustainability projects, even while delivering impressive returns for its shareholders and keeping its consumers satisfied. The company’s remarkable achievements in mainstreaming business sustainability in corporate Kenya continue to be the subject of numerous case studies in leading local and global universities and are certainly worth toasting to, pun fully intended!