Making Spirits Sustainable with Takeshi Niinami
Suntory Holdings offers a uniquely diverse portfolio of products from premium spirits, beer, and wine to brewed teas, bottled water, carbonated soft drinks, ready-to-drink coffee, and energy drinks, along with health and wellness products. Founded as a family-owned business in 1899 in Osaka, Japan, Suntory Group has grown into a global company operating throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania with annual revenue (excluding excise taxes) of $19.8 billion in 2021. CEO Takeshi “Tak” Niinami joined Suntory in 2014.
As a global leader in consumer packaged goods, Suntory’s founding promise has been to coexist
with people and nature. What inspired this and how do you implement this through your purpose?
Suntory’s corporate mission is “to create harmony with people and nature.” We pursue this mission with our founding spirits of “giving back to society” and the “Yatte Minahare,” spirit of bold ambition, meaning that we never give up and constantly challenge ourselves to do the right thing.
We are keenly aware that it is the commitment to contribute positively to society that has enabled us to sustain our growth for over 120 years.
Ensuring that our growth brings good to society, and the trust from society is what gives us the license to operate.
That’s why we put our efforts in sustainability at the center of our business, focusing on three areas: water, circular economy for plastics, and climate change.
How do you balance Suntory’s purpose of working to meet the needs of your customers while making the world a more sustainable place for those people to live and work?
Generating profit from business is the source of innovation. And by giving this profit back to society will contribute to making a society a better place.
Since its foundation, Suntory has continued to grow through various innovations in alcohol and non-alcohol beverages. In line with the founder’s spirit of “Giving back to society”, Suntory has shared the profit earned from business with customers, clients and partners, employees, and society through social contribution and environment protection activities.
Through the continuation of these efforts, we have gained the trust of society and have been able to obtain a license to operate, so to speak, and continue our business.
Companies run by the support of various stakeholders. In order to give back to them, we must be both ‘Growing’ and ‘Good’. These two wheels enable us to continue the legacy.
As a global leader in the beverage industry, Suntory has an active interest in protecting water resources. What initiatives are you involved in that are tackling this issue?
It is said that approximately 50% of the population in the world will suffer from water shortages in 2050 due to climate change and population growth. As a global beverage company with water at the heart of business, protecting this vital resource is a must to sustain our business.
We have set a goal of replenishing more than 100% of the water used in all factories in highly water stressed areas through local water source conservation efforts by 2030, and aim to achieve net water positive at all our factories globally by 2050.
For the past 20 years, we have been advancing water stewardship especially through our two signature programs:
1) Local watershed conservation called “Natural Water Sanctuary.” Started in 2003, Suntory manages 21 forests near our plants in Japan which replenishes more than double the amount of water we use in our plants in the country. We have expanded this program to the U.S. and other water conservation activities to India, Mexico, France, and Scotland.
2) Education for children called “Mizuiku.” Since 2004, Suntory has been educating children the importance of water and the natural water cycle in Japan. We have expanded this to Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, China, France, and Spain, reaching a total of over 300,000 children and teachers
Suntory aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions across your whole value chain by 2050. What have you learned as you have implemented this goal across your supply chain?
First of all, we are taking immediate actions to reduce our emissions in our direct operations (scopes 1 and 2). One example is transitioning to purchasing 100% renewable electricity in Japan, Americas, and Europe by 2022.
However, the real challenge lies in scope 3, as most of our emissions come from our supply chain partners, who in many cases are SMEs which lack the necessary resources to implement net-zero changes. It is essential to collaborate with supply chain partners as well as other companies, including competitors for making an impact.
The Scope 3 initiative also requires taking actions in the raw ingredients such as regenerative agriculture. We are still in the early stages of this initiative, but we have been working to introduce regenerative farming at our wineries. We still have a lot of work to do, but as we make progress, we
hope to share the learnings and know-how widely.
As a global business, how does the shifting geopolitical dynamic impact how you are approaching your ESG aspirations? What are the biggest challenges for companies focused on achieving their ESG goals today?
With the international situation becoming so unstable, disruption in global supply chains has led to a return to fossil fuels in terms of short-term energy supply, which means an immediate increase in GHG emissions. Despite these circumstances, however, we will continue to strive to achieve our 2050 net-zero ambition and our intermediate goal of 2030.
But innovation is essential for this to happen. We need to expand our thinking beyond existing frameworks, explore and consider all kinds of technological innovations, and accelerate the realization of technologies with high potential.
Society and consumers have become increasingly sensitive to sustainability and businesses cannot survive without tackling these issues. I believe that this trend will increase even more in the future, so companies are required to do the “right thing” from a long-term perspective.
What are the biggest opportunities? What gives you hope for the future?
We are in a headwind right now. However, accomplishing our goals and targets in the midst of such
situation will lead to gaining the trust of society. It will become an intangible asset of the company and is essential for the company to grow and sustain to the future.
I believe that technology is the key to this. When technology is featured, concerns may be expressed in the context of AI taking over human jobs. However, I am very hopeful that the development of technology will contribute to the sustainability and wellbeing of society and humans.