In Conversation with MillerCoors’ Kim Marotta

Great Beer, Great Responsibility is the sustainability spirit of MillerCoors. America's second-largest beer company reached record lows for its water and energy consumption last year, and it has already surpassed all of the environmental stewardship goals it set out to achieve by 2015.

So what are the secrets to this success? Here, edie talks with the firm’s director of sustainability Kim Marotta, to find out more about the group’s various green initiatives.

What area will you be focusing on next in terms of sustainability?

Water is a key ingredient in beer, so water conservation will always remain a priority for MillerCoors. Our employees are constantly looking for ways to make small changes within the brewing process to reduce water use. Within our supply chain, we look for partners to collaborate with – from local water conservation groups to our individual barley growers, whose insights and knowledge help us brew beer more sustainably.

What are the major changes you see happening in your industry?

I believe that change begins with collaboration. At MillerCoors, we work directly with our growers and supply chain partners to tap into their insights and knowledge on everything from how to brew beer with less water to best farming practices to grow our key ingredients. Recently, we discovered that we share many growers in Idaho with General Mills, as well as Syngenta and Simplot, so we joined together to form the Idaho Sustainable Agriculture Partnership (ISAP), a pilot project to collect data from our shared growers and enhance sustainable farming practices.

What are the challenges for someone in your position?

We rely heavily on our supply chain, and because we’re just one corporation, we work with other counterparts in the industry to take a collaborative approach to addressing environmental, social and economic challenges within our supply chain. One way we do this is through our participation in the Sustainability Consortium. The Consortium is focused on improving decision making for product sustainability throughout the entire product life cycle. Together, we’re developing transparent methodologies, simple tools and strategies to drive a new generation of innovative products, and supply networks that address our challenges and in the end improve supply chain sustainability. For MillerCoors, this spans from the fields where we source our barley to the packaging we use to sell our products.

What motivates you?

I’m motivated by possibility and how we can effect positive change–no matter how big or small. When MillerCoors works with a farmer to retrofit a nozzle or plant native vegetation, the immediate benefit may be small. While it may be one pivot or one farm that we improve, we’re still making a positive impact. Even if we start small, we can share results and build best management practices with a group of farmers, a community or others within the watershed to make a larger impact. My favorite quote by cultural anthropologist Margaret Meade sums it up best: “Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. It is the only thing that ever has.”

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Prior to joining MillerCoors, I was a criminal defense attorney. Every day, I had the opportunity to positively impact a person or a family, and I was inspired by the one-to-one personal connections I made. At MillerCoors, I’m still able to have a positive impact on a person, family or community by leveraging my role as the Director of Sustainability. Nothing is more rewarding.

What green innovation do you think can revolutionize the economy?

In 2013, low recycling rates caused cities to collectively spend billions of dollars on landfills and lose more than $11bn in commodity revenue from the sale of recyclable material that was sent to landfills. Collaborative partnerships such as the Closed Loop Recycling Fund and Curbside Value Partnership are developing innovative solutions to this decades old problem. While their models are different, I admire their determination and focus. If just one of them can get it right, it could revolutionize the recycling industry and economy in the U.S.

What’s the big focus over the next 12 months for the environment?

Water will remain MillerCoors big focus for the foreseeable future. It’s the main ingredient in beer, and we’re facing unprecedented drought conditions in several states across the country, including where we have three major breweries located.

We’ve made huge strides in water reduction and conservation since 2008, and we remain focused on reducing our impact even further.

What tips or advice would you give to newly appointed sustainability professionals?

Sustainability is a growing career opportunity. Many of our recent interviewees have participated in top graduate programs specific to this field. It’s more competitive now, so you need to acquire expertise. If you don’t necessarily have the academic background, you can still get involved by participating in green teams or joining sustainability leadership councils. Don’t rely on the sustainability department to make a difference; everyone can have a role.

What do you like most about your job?

The free beer of course!

What’s the worst aspect of your job?

There are so many opportunities for MillerCoors to make a difference – I wish we had unlimited resources! It’s important to be strategic in when and how we seize opportunities so we make the largest impact possible.

What do you think the next 12 months has in store for the green economy?

Consumers, particularly millennials, are choosing brands that are demonstrating an authentic commitment to sustainability and stand for a fundamental human value. Brands looking to drive growth in the near-term will place more focus on those ideals.

At MillerCoors, we’ve witness consumer response to authentic sustainability initiatives. When Coors Light drinkers learn that Bill Coors pioneered the aluminium can and helped start the recycling revolution, they feel more positive about the brand. And when Leinenkugel’s consumers learn about the brand’s historic commitment to water, they feel a connection to the brand.

What period of time would you visit if you had access to a time machine?

The day that each one of my children was born. Truly, the most special and magical day, and I was lucky enough to experience it on four separate occasions.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Collaboration is a vital component of success, and MillerCoors has built strong industry partnerships and relationships with our suppliers, particularly with our barley growers. Through our Grower Direct program, we’re able to bring together over 800 of our growers in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to share best practices on ways to produce high quality barley while keeping sustainability in mind. We’re building relationships with growers, and they are interested in working together to develop water savings best practices for the region. It’s inspiring to see change happening.

If you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?

I’d like to meet Helen Keller. She faced such adversity and many challenges, yet achieved so much success, and I think it would be an absolute privilege to see it first-hand and meet her in person. She was such a remarkable woman, and her accomplishments are astounding.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

When I graduated from undergrad with a marketing degree, I was really unsure what I wanted to do next. On graduation day, my dad gave me my first word processor and attached a note to it – he’d typed “Go to law school.” I did, and continuing my education turned out to be great advice.

I believe that continuing education and skill building are so valuable. It’s one of things I love about working at MillerCoors. We offer continuing education courses to employees through our award-winning MillerCoors University (MCU). Last year, employees logged over 300,000 hours at MCU.

Worst advice?

I think all advice has value. I’m always open to receiving advice from others. Making mistakes is critical to personal growth. We learn from all of our experiences–whether they are good or bad.

What’s your top tip for employee engagement?

We encourage employees – regardless of their role or title – to share their ideas to improve our business. Everyone plays a key role in sustainability, from the brewery shop floor technician who’s looking for ways we can reduce more waste to employees making real-time changes on the brewery line to reduce water.

In order to get employees engaged with your sustainability initiatives, it’s important to know where you stand. We measure employee opinions annually, including their views on our sustainability goals, opportunities to learn and grow, etc. We’ve noticed that engaging our employees in the development of our programs and goals makes a difference in their attitude, commitment and, ultimately, our sustainability progress.

What’s been your biggest win (environmentally)?

Every environmental win feels like the biggest win but one that I’m most proud of is the achievements we’ve made in water reductions over the years. The key to our success is that we’ve been able to foster a learning environment for reducing water and operate as a single team across our eight major breweries. We were able to surpass our 2015 environmental goal two years early, reducing our water use to 3.48 barrels of water for every barrel of beer brewed. A few of our breweries are even using less than three barrels of water!

If there was one word you could remove from the English language what would it be?

“Can’t”- I’m definitely a glass half full person, and I’d like to remove that word from everyone’s vernacular.

Books or kindle?

Books — I’m old-fashioned!

VIDEO: The commercial impact of sustainability for MillerCoors

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