This week, Ezgi Barcenas joins our Senior Leadership Team as our Chief Sustainability Officer, reporting into the CEO. Her appointment reflects our commitment to further accelerate our environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda.    

A thought leader in sustainability and a frequent speaker at global conferences on climate action, circular economy, water stewardship, agricultural development, sustainable finance and ESG integration, Ezgi is also known for driving action and innovation to create inclusive and sustainable value chains. We recently sat down with her to learn more about what inspires her, what it will take to achieve our ambitious sustainability goals and why innovation and resilience are needed now more than ever. 

Why do you think Sustainability is important to AB InBev and what is its relationship to the business?
Sustainability has been at the core of AB InBev since the very beginning, and directly linked to our purpose of Bringing People Together for a Better World. As a global local company, we are deeply rooted in the communities where we live and work, and we rely on a healthy environment, resilient supply chains and local economies. That makes sustainable and inclusive growth fundamental to our business success.

What were the priorities in developing the 2025 Sustainability Goals?
We set out to create our 2025 Sustainability Goals in 2017 by focusing on areas that are most material to our business and stakeholders: agriculture, water, packaging and climate. Early in the process, we brought together over 70 people from across the business – representing different functions and geographies – to align on shared beliefs and co-design the commitments. Aiming for transformational environmental and social impact, we formulated a clear, actionable vision through our 2025 Sustainability Goals that our “team of teams” can authentically rally behind across our value chain spanning more than 50 countries.     

Has the pandemic affected how you approach sustainability and the business? 
The pandemic has been a stress test for sustainable development and emphasized the private sector’s role - from response to recovery. It has also demonstrated to us that our Sustainability Goals are as relevant and critical as ever as they drive business continuity and value chain resilience.   

In your opinion, what does it take for a company to find success in sustainability? 
It takes vision, courage, and as I tell my team often – gritty optimism. I always talk about double vision—seeing the world as it is today, but also imagining what it could be, and trying to get there together. And that allows you to think about things like the future of farming, packaging or logistics…and creates the space to solve for it together. You should also be able to work beyond divides and communicate across organizational, functional and/or geographic boundaries to find effective ways to deliver critical messages to different stakeholder groups. Being able to speak the technical language behind business challenges can help position sustainability-related priorities as more relevant, and ultimately help build a shared vision.

How are you finding innovative ways to make an impact? 
I am a firm believer that sustainability is the ultimate design brief. How we design our policies, processes and partnerships plays a pivotal role in delivering on our goals. And you need innovation to do that – which is why we launched the 100+ Accelerator in 2018. In the last two years, we have accelerated 36 startups across 16 countries. I am excited about the third cohort we are forming now, which will be our largest and most impactful yet.   

What drives you to bring your best self to work every day? 
Sustainability is about progress. A belief system that a better world is possible and that we can create value for all our stakeholders is what drives me. Having the insatiable curiosity of an engineer also helps. And I am fortunate that I get to do this every day with a diverse and dynamic team who shares the same deep sense of purpose and discipline. 

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to sustainability leaders and changemakers around the world?   
Progress requires bold ideas and deviation from the norms. You have to think outside the box and beyond the boundaries while aiming for validity today and soundness tomorrow. We need to bring people with us along the journey. Now more than ever, we need to work along the intersections of environmental, social, and economic issues. Only then we can move forward with intention and action to create a more sustainable, inclusive and prosperous world.