Bold Partnerships Lead to Bold Progress for our Planet

by | Apr 14, 2021

Towards the end of 2019, our team developed the first prototype of our eco-resins and we were eagerly building relationships with plastic manufacturers globally. However, we knew that working with plastic manufacturers was just one of the ways for us to scale our impact. If we really wanted to develop materials that would be universally accepted, we recognized the importance of involving consumer brands in the adoption process. Our compatibility isn’t just about fitting into existing plastic technology – it’s also about fitting into our end-user supply chains. With that in mind, we knew it was time to test out a more collaborative model: a CPG pilot

In order to launch an ambitious global pilot, we needed the right foundation and committed partners to make it happen. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and it required a framework that integrated sustainability within core business priorities. That’s what led us to AB InBev’s 100+ Accelerator.

100+ Accelerator (100+)

AB InBev’s 100+ Accelerator is dedicated to working with startups that have innovative solutions to four key challenges: climate action, circular packaging, smart agriculture and water stewardship. Supported by Highline Beta, the pilot framework is truly one of a kind and prioritizes real impact, with real partners. 

Last year, 100+ received over 1500 applications from around the world, which was then narrowed down to a group of 20 start-ups tackling various sustainability challenges. Erthos was 1 of the lucky start-ups to have been selected for the 2020 cohort.

Partnering with a CPG to scale impact

When we kicked off the pilot, we sat down with Maisie Devine (AB InBev Global Director, Sustainability Fund & Accelerator) and the 100+ team to brainstorm ways to work together to replace existing single-use plastics within their supply chain. There were a few obvious choices, but what we discovered buried deep into their supply chain was a product that had never been on anyone’s radar: the keg cap. 

This plastic product fit all of our initial targets with it’s single/limited use application, compatibility, and lack of existing sustainable alternatives. While on the surface keg caps may seem like a small product, they equate to almost 1300 tonnes of AB InBev’s global plastic consumption. Once we aligned on the product, our pilot objectives were clearly defined to prioritize what was most important for both parties:

  1. Create a plant based alternative to the existing plastic product with measurable environmental benefits.
  2. Verify compatibility to AB InBev’s manufacturing partners through iterative trials. 
  3. Bonus Goal: Utilize AB InBev’s agricultural byproducts within the eco-resin to make the solution even more circular. 

Fast forward to today, we’re pleased to have successfully completed all of our objectives and created the first plant powered keg cap alongside a Global 500 company. Goals that may have started out as unimaginable, resulted in one of our most meaningful collaboration opportunities. 

But, don’t just take it from us. 

We caught up with Maisie Devine to reflect on the pilot and AB InBev’s remarkable commitment to sustainability:

What’s unique about AB InBev’s approach to Sustainability?

We used to see sustainability owned by corporate affairs or marketing – which is one approach. But, when we want to create systemic change throughout a company – we need to be working in a core business operations function. Procurement or operations at AB InBev work hand in hand, and I personally believe that having sustainability embedded in one of those is absolutely essential and has a lasting effect. As a company of our size, embedding sustainability into contracts with suppliers can move markets and make progress.

Why choose to work with start-ups as a large corporation through 100+?

The challenges that we are facing are really substantial. We need all hands on deck, and iterative thinking to find solutions to these challenges. There are companies that are spending a lot on R&D to come up with solutions but that process can take a long time. We needed the passionate innovators, entrepreneurs and scientists that are more reactive, quick, responsive, and agile. We’re looking everywhere, but we recognize that start-ups have an advantage to build solutions quickly. 

What did you see in erthos when selecting us for the 2020 cohort? 

Being a CPG company, packaging continues to be a challenge. Even though we don’t use plastic as much as other materials like aluminum and glass, it still continues to be a high priority for us. What stood out to us with erthos was how the materials (eco-resins) could be an easy switch directly within our supply chains and our manufacturers. We also liked that it was compostable, and could utilize our own agricultural by-products to make it even more circular. Erthos was ready to pilot, and we were extremely impressed by the founder story.

Why is it so important for ABInBev to adopt more planet friendly solutions to plastics?

When we look at single use plastics in our supply chain, we have a few areas where it pops up. Some areas where you might not even imagine. We decided keg caps would be a great starting point after an iterative process where we thought about what exists, and could be easily replaced with erthos materials. It wasn’t even a product that I would have ever thought of, and it just goes to show that there are so many little places that have room for change. You don’t always need to go after the top products, there is so much under the surface that can still make a significant difference in sustainability. It was a win for us. 

Any thoughts on the success of the pilot?  

It was incredible to see it come to fruition, and have a physical product that we were replacing in our supply chain. It takes patience and resilience when you are changing supply chains and working with multiple parties, so I was also pleased and appreciative of erthos’  persistence to get everyone across the finish line. We’re working with big established processes, and it can be intimidating, but it can happen. I thought that was really amazing, and not something everyone can do. 

Erthos worked closely with our teams to move through the issues, and tweak the product to work for our needs as we went through the trials. All of that in my opinion contributed to the success of the project. The keg caps are just the beginning of the options we have. Seeing our AB InBev team change their minds about using a plant based keg cap, and the excitement in the company about the product was amazing to see. The purpose is to start with a pilot, but it’s just the beginning. 

What would you say to other brands and CPG’s in a similar position, on how to integrate sustainability into their targets for the next 100+ years?

I think our team did a great job of setting ambitious goals. No one really wants goals that you’re going to hit, you want to set goals that are really ambitious and push the company forward. The purpose is not just to announce something, it’s about making progress to these systemic global challenges that we are facing, and will materially impact our businesses. 

Take some bold risks on what companies you work with. We launched this program and selected the start-ups quickly. It’s not normal for large companies to do this, but to have the buy-in from the organization to move fast is why we were able to accelerate 36 companies in the past 2 years. 

We all have a part in this transformation. Without bold partnerships – our planet doesn’t stand a chance.

For both a start-up and a large CPG, it might seem overly ambitious to launch a global pilot like this. But, setting goals that push boundaries is the only way for us to address the urgency of the challenges that we are facing in our environment.  As we now work towards rolling out keg caps, we’re excited to replicate our successful CPG pilot model and continue to expand the reach and impact of our technology. If you’re a CPG looking for an alternative to a single/limited use plastic in your supply chain, big or small, we have the solution for you.  

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