AB InBev, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever Join Forces for Sustainable Startup Innovation

Alarice Rajagopal
Senior Editor
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Ezgi Barcenas is Global Head of Sustainability at AB InBev.

The Coca-Cola Company, Colgate-Palmolive Company and Unilever recently announced their joint efforts with the Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) 100+ Accelerator to fund and pilot sustainable innovation in supply chains.

Launched in 2018, the 100+ Accelerator is a global incubator program that works to solve supply chain challenges across water stewardship, circular economy, sustainable agriculture and climate action. Over the last two years, the program has accelerated 36 companies in 16 countries. The 100+ Accelerator offers size and scale to passionate entrepreneurs to help bring their solutions to market faster. These startups have raised more than $200 million and are scaling globally to achieve the program’s mission: to accelerate the world’s shift toward sustainable solutions and to do business the right way, not the easy way. 

In fact, Global Head of Sustainability at AB InBev Ezgi Barcenas tells CGT, “Collective action is key. Together with our partners, we can spur innovation at pace and at scale. We can test new ideas across value chains, validate technologies, and brainstorm on alternative use cases. We are proud to be joining forces to accelerate progress for a more sustainable world.”

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Barcenas is responsible for the development and execution of the company’s sustainability strategy, particularly its ambitious 2025 sustainability goals that aim to drive resilience and inclusive growth across its entire value chain in 50-plus markets.

In addition, Barcenas’ team focuses primarily on climate action, agricultural development, water stewardship, circular packaging and responsible sourcing. Barcenas oversees the 100+ Accelerator, “an award-winning program which identifies, pilots and scales innovative solutions to our greatest sustainability challenges.”

“Our sustainability agenda is led by our cross-functional team of teams, and we partner closely with colleagues across procurement and supply on sourcing strategy, operational excellence and R&D, corporate affairs teams on stakeholder engagement and thought leadership, marketing teams on innovation and brand purpose, treasury on sustainable finance, and investor relations team on ESG engagement, etc.,” she adds.

In addition to funding pilot programs, the 100+ Accelerator provides "hands-on" support to startups by assigning dedicated teams to help test out their new technologies in a large global supply chain. The addition of The Coca-Cola Company, Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever will expand this unique approach and will further establish the value proposition of the AB InBev 100+ Accelerator brand and mission. 

The pandemic has blurred the lines between environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development, according to Barcenas. “It has also demonstrated that we can find unprecedented ways to come together as businesses, communities, civil society and governments, and tackle shared challenges. So, we know solving tomorrow’s challenges today requires partnerships and breakthrough innovation."

“Sustainability is foundational to how we conduct business and shape our strategies,” says Brian Smith, president and chief operating officer of The Coca-Cola Company. “We are committed to working with partners including innovators to bring more sustainable solutions to market by leveraging our size and scale. We are pleased to be a partner of the 100+ Accelerator.”

The 100+ Accelerator’s startup innovations have already created an impact, and Barcenas explains that anchoring actions on values and strategic perspectives allows one to keep an eye on the horizon.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re in search of transformational technologies, and have found great solutions, in prior cohorts, that are utilizing blockchain to enhance supply chain traceability and enable digital financial identities (BanQu), computer vision and AI for barley quality assurance (Zoom Agri), and real-time, autonomous measurements for water (Gybe). New technologies are developed quickly, and the 100+ Accelerator can unveil cutting-edge ideas through high-potential innovations for sustainable development,” Barcenas says.

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Other program wins so far include:

  • The implementation of green cleaning solutions to reduce water and energy use in brewing operations in Colombia
  • Solutions delivering traceability and insurance for smallholder farmers in Africa and South America
  • The collection of more than 1,000 tons of glass waste in Brazil
  • Piloting returnable packaging in the United States
  • Recycled electric vehicle batteries that store renewable electricity in China
  • The ability to upcycle saved grains from the brewing process to produce nutritious foods in the United States
  • The first solar thermal system to be installed at an AB InBev plant

“Colgate’s purpose is clear — we are reimagining a healthier future for all people, their pets, and our planet,” says Patricia Verduin, chief technology officer of Colgate. “And we know that we can achieve our purpose faster and more effectively with equally committed partners like AB InBev, Coca-Cola and Unilever. By becoming a founding member of the 100+ Accelerator, we are elevating sustainability, expediting the innovation process and ultimately maximizing our collective impact.”

Embedded within the program is also a focus on social challenges, which are inextricably linked to progress on the environment. From its infancy, the 100+ Accelerator has developed global partnerships including One Young World and Female Founders Alliance as well as dozens of local and regional relationships to build a pipeline of diverse founders.

"We’ll continue to set the bar high, updating challenges for the 100+ Accelerator on a yearly basis, and together with our partners continue to scale innovation and push towards common goals."

Marc Engel, chief supply chain officer of Unilever adds, “The 100+ Accelerator allows industries to work together to propel sustainable innovation. Partnerships like these are critical for transforming global supply chains towards a greener future. The program’s social inequality component is also aligned with Unilever’s values; this year, we made commitments to ensure that everyone who directly provides us with goods and services receives a living wage by 2030, we’re increasing our spend with suppliers from underrepresented groups and committed to train 10 million young people."

Through the power of our companies combined, I’m excited about the impact that the program will bring," Engel says. "We need to tackle climate change and social inequality to provide a world that is positive and healthy for people and the planet.”

“We’ll continue to set the bar high, updating challenges for the 100+ Accelerator on a yearly basis, and together with our partners continue to scale innovation and push towards common goals,” says Barcenas.