As part of our corporate social responsibility (CSR) interview series, Barton Alexander
, Global VP of Alcohol Policy and Corporate Responsibility at the Molson Coors Brewing Company
, kindly shared some of his thoughts with us recently. A big thank you to Bart for taking the time out of his busy schedule...
1. Could you briefly explain your role and responsibilities within the organization?
Global Vice President, Alcohol Policy and Corporate Responsibility
Promote responsible corporate performance
– coaching leaders throughout the enterprise so that we brew and build our great brands the right way: ethical performance, quality products marketed responsibly, environmental stewardship in manufacturing and packaging, investing in our people and the communities where we live and work, and driving our best practices throughout our supply chain.
– openly sharing our policies, our objectives, our performance and our challenges to our diverse stakeholders.
Enhancing the corporate brand
- letting beer consumers know that the products they enjoy are produced by a company that shares their values and acts upon them.
I work for a company that places accountability for corporate responsibility at the leadership level and then on down. So, I collaborate with our business leaders as their consultant, helping them to identify and responsibly reach their targets. That’s exciting for me and it’s good for our business. There is a perception that those of us in these roles need to be the cop, and sometimes we do, but we’re far more effective as the coach.
2. What do you feel has driven the increased C-level focus on CSR initiatives in today’s business world?
Our executive leadership team believes that corporate responsibility is a win-win: it’s the right thing to do and is right for the business. In fact, in our strategic plan, our corporate responsibility performance is recognized as one of the four key foundations for our business success, along with profitability, people development and engagement, and strategic brand growth.
The heritage of the Molson and Coors family businesses embody a commitment to values and to corporate citizenship. So, to ask every leader – and every employee – to make our shared values come alive in their work was very easy. In fact, that’s what was already happening.
Getting everybody to agree on policies, priorities and consistent measures was more difficult. Part of that challenge is inherent in the beer business, which by its nature is a local business, close to the consumer in each of our markets. By working together, we realized that we can have enterprise policies with local practice standards that make sense in each context. We can have global priorities with local customization to meet local needs. And, we can and do measure our progress, knowing that in this fast paced and competitive world, what is not measured probably won’t happen.
3. What are the top three challenges facing you as a CSR executive over the next 12-18 months? Why?
We believe that to be sustained, corporate responsibility must be imbedded into the business. CR is a lens that helps identify areas of both risk and opportunity across the enterprise. Full agreement on priority areas helps us to avoid being distracted by fads or even comprehensive CR standards. We need to choose and emphasize those areas that are important to the business and to our diverse stakeholders.
We have the will, but the way is not always so easy. Finding the right information to report, and getting it accessible in one place is not always easy. The good news is that increased transparency demands making sure that our non-financial information is accurate and verified, which makes it better management information as well.
Getting recognized for doing well is great, but it’s simply a point-in-time snapshot of our progress. In the competitive business world, we can’t pause or even slow down, we need to stay in the race!
4. What role, if any, do you see corporations playing in poverty alleviation in the developing world? Any specific examples at your company?
Successful and responsible corporations create value for their employees, vendors, communities and other stakeholders, of course, including shareholders. We believe that businesses need to start with our own operations and our own practices, and always challenge how we can do better, to create more value.
On our website, we have a chart showing who gets the revenues we collect. For Molson Coors, the largest share, over one-quarter, goes to governments, for excise and other taxes. Just under a quarter goes to agricultural suppliers and packing vendors. Our people receive about 13%. Of course, we could associate economic multipliers to these figures. You can go to our website and see the full picture, but the point is that these expenditures have more impact – more value creating opportunities – than anything else we do, including philanthropy. And by the way, corporate wide, we do contribute well over 1% of pre-tax profits.
In terms of the poverty agenda, our current footprint does limit our impact. But as we grow our business around the world, we hope to be creating jobs and building value by doing business the right way, which of course, includes good employment practices, supplier principles, and other core business practices, as well as community investments.
5. What recent CSR initiative or project are you most proud of, and why? How have you measured its success?
For Molson Coors, corporate responsibility is much more than a project or even an initiative, it’s how we do business, taking into account our economic, social and environmental impacts. So what I’m really proud about is the fact that every member of our senior leadership team has built responsibility goals and targets into his or her performance plan and business plan. These are serious targets, such as a 4% year on year reduction in energy and water use. And then, they engage all their teams to challenge how they can meet and beat these figures.
Of course, we do have projects and initiatives, and these kinds of actions can serve as icons to make broader measurements tangible. For example, our entire enterprise – including our employees – are challenged to participate in Earth Hour, a one-hour period in March when we reduce electricity and other energy use as much as possible. The savings during that hour are considerable, but they symbolize the commitments we’re making to reduce energy use every hour of every day every year.
And we do have some thoughts on a water initiative, but that’s still under development. . .more to come.
6. Given the current economic climate, how do you see the role of CSR in corporate strategy adapting, if at all?
The companies that will truly be sustainable will integrate responsibility into their businesses. Maybe some of the “fluff” will be removed, and the focus will turn to core business practices and impacts. But those companies that understand the changing expectations of their customers and the public will enjoy a clear competitive advantage.
7. Any additional thoughts?
I believe that a key success factor for CR professionals is to fully engage with the business, learn what really makes it tick. Be open to all your stakeholders, understanding their priorities and interests. And then, seek the win-win. Our value internally is bringing knowledge and insights about the outside world into the company. Our value externally is helping your critics and allies alike to understand that your company is on a journey, and trying to get it right. Working to bring people and ideas together, we can help make it so.