How Molson Coors's tiny team creates big sustainability impact

It’s been a heady year so far for sustainability efforts at Molson Coors (NYSE: TAP). The brewing company was recently named beverage sector leader on the international Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). It also made the DJSI North America list for the second straight year.

"Molson Coors is focused on continuing to make progress improving what we call 'Our Beer Print,' which details our impacts on our communities, people and the environment," said company president and CEO Peter Swinburn in a press release. "Continued recognition on DJSI demonstrates our ongoing commitment to advance year after year."

But this leadership in sustainability efforts is all the more remarkable when you consider the size of Molson Coors’ sustainability group.

"We have a very small central team," said chief corporate responsibility officer Barton Alexander.  "It’s really me -- and I have one person who works as an analyst who helps me. But we see corporate responsibility as an integral part of every employee’s job in the company."

Alexander believes his job is to embed the notion of sustainability throughout the organization. He chairs the company’s corporate responsibility council, made up of vice presidents from divisions across the firm, including sales and marketing, compliance/ethics, finance, innovation, technical governance and water resources.

"Like those with formal power, my success depends upon my ability to influence others," he said. "I start with listening, not talking. These are people who know their functions and believe in the values of the company. My role isn't to tell them what to do, but to partner with them in finding ways to improve."

Alexander describes his job as being a facilitator, coach and sometime provocateur. "In our company culture, we're encouraged to 'challenge the expected,'" he said. "For me, that means asking a lot of questions. For example, when I learned about our environmental targets for 2012, I was pleased, but pushed further: Where do we want to be in five years, in 10 years; what is our ambition? I encourage my colleagues to think beyond the incremental change that can be achieved with tweaks to goals that may require innovations not yet thought about."

Photo of beer bottles by Jumnong  via Shutterstock.

Next page: Keys to a lean and successful C.R. program