"Consumers know that brewing locally means less transportation and fewer carbon emissions" - Interview, Carlsberg CEO Cees 't Hart

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Carlsberg CEO Cees 't Hart has long been vocal about his company's commitment to sustainability. In June last year, he called the decision by US President Donald Trump to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement a "call to action" for governments and businesses. In the same month, Carlsberg set out plans to eliminate carbon emissions and halve water usage across all of its breweries by 2030 as part of the company's Together Towards Zero programme. 

Carlsberg CEO Cees t Hart recently became a member of the WEF Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders

Carlsberg CEO Cees 't Hart recently became a member of the WEF Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders

Yesterday, Carlsberg published its 2017 Sustainability Report, with recent progress including a 16% reduction in carbon emissions and a 6% reduction in water use since 2015, as well as the elimination of coal as a source of energy at nine breweries in China.

just-drinks caught up with Hart over email to talk about the wider sustainability challenges for the brewing industry. 

just-drinks: Are there markets where sustainability is a hard sell to local businesses and employees? What are the main challenges? How do you get people on board?

Cees 't Hart: It has been quite easy to bring people on board. In fact, it has energised the whole organisation, and we see it clearly in our reputation numbers internally and externally as well. The big turn happened when we went back to our purpose of brewing for a better today and tomorrow and truly embedded sustainability into our business strategy with the launch of 'Together Towards Zero'. We see this having a big impact, not least when we recruit and welcome new colleagues to the business. We see positive momentum behind this all over the business today.

j-d: On the one hand, consumers desire brands that are authentic - which often means coming from a single place of origin - while, on the other hand, they want the world to become more sustainable. How can Carlsberg convince consumers that in-market brewing is more sustainable, while also retaining the authenticity message? 

CH: I agree that consumers desire authenticity and frankly, employees as well for that matter. Many companies are searching for a purpose but, for Carlsberg, it has always been there. Our local power brands each have a long and proud history in their markets and they were always brewed locally. I think consumers know that brewing locally means less transportation and fewer carbon emissions. We always worked that way but you're right that today, customers, consumers and employees are more aware of and appreciate more deeply Carlsberg's ways of working. We intend to bring our purpose to life by opening up our business more and showing what is happening behind the scenes.

j-d: You recently announced the formation of the Carlsberg Young Scientists Community, tasked with helping deliver innovative new solutions to address climate change and water scarcity.  

CH: The sustainability challenges are quite clear. We have worked with leading experts such as Carbon Trust and WWF to define the areas where we can have the biggest sustainability impact as a business. This is the starting point for Carlsberg Young Scientists Community. Together with global experts and universities, they will help us achieve our sustainability ambitions of zero carbon footprint and zero water waste. I am proud that we have set the bar very high for the long term, and we are clear that this cannot be done alone. Hence the word 'together' in our programme.

j-d: You recently joined the WEF Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders - are there any learnings brewers can take from other industries?

CH: Partnerships and science are crucial to addressing some of the world's global challenges. That is why I joined. What I have seen so far is that companies that pursue sustainability continuously revisit their business portfolios to determine the potential impact of sustainability trends that could lead to new growth opportunities. Our industry can certainly learn from that.

j-d: Tackling irresponsible drinking is also part of you Together Towards Zero programme - are you making any moves to reduce the abv of high-strength beers?

CH: Responsible drinking is more about expanding consumer choice, providing information to consumers and encouraging responsible behaviour. We have said that we will offer 100% distribution of alcohol-free brews by 2022, we will voluntarily offer ingredients and calories on labels, and we will use our voice to drive a more responsible drinking culture.

j-d: Do you think the industry does enough to tackle alcoholism?

CH: We can always do more. I think the important thing is to work together.

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