The great and the good of the sustainability world were out in force last week for the launch of the new and ambitious sustainable development plan for SABMiller, and, in my view, rightly so.
For some time now, SABMiller has been at the forefront of sustainable business thinking, consistently pushing boundaries, so the audience was keen to hear what would be different in the reframing of this ambition, cleverly branded 'Prosper'
What sets Prosper apart is that it is about integration into the core business strategy, not just embedding sustainability into business practices. This focus on long-term value creation for all, based around five big challenges that SABMiller believes are shared by society, business and government, is potentially transformative.
Some highlights of the new programme include plans to launch new marketing campaigns to encourage ‘moderate and responsible’ alcohol consumption. SABMiller says this will include more global and local communications with the aim of positioning beer as the ‘natural choice’ for responsible drinkers.
It also includes commitments to support half a million small businesses, improve water efficiency and food security and reduce SABMiller’s carbon footprint. The company says it will use its value chain – from farmers to retailers – to ‘drive inclusive growth, sustainable resource use and alcohol responsibility’.
I took the opportunity to ask Alan Clark (CEO), and Jamie Wilson (CFO) - the full executive committee attended the event - whether the launch of Prosper was also an opportunity to reframe how SABMiller communicates its sustainability strategy to the investment community.
Instead of the push back I have often received from CEOs and CFOs that the investment community is just not interested in these issues, there was no doubt in their minds that this is an important area for their long term investors. You just need to look at some the analyst presentations on their website to see what information they already provide.
But they could take their investor communications further. Perhaps applying their focus on the central role sustainability plays in delivering prosperity, to change the context of what gets communicated to shareholders and, as a consequence, raising the bar.
After all, if you believe, in the words of Alan Clark, that 'only those companies that are prepared to be part of the solution will be successful in the long term’, this is an important message that needs to be more widely understood.