For more than a decade, the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) harmonized, energized, and expanded the first collaborative agenda to help the world’s most vulnerable populations. While unfinished business remains, the MDGs succeeded in spurring governments and the private sector to donate billions of dollars, and to cooperate along with civil society in ways that could not have been imagined just a few years earlier.

Now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched this year by world leaders, offer business a more comprehensive array of new ways to “do right, while doing well.”

AB InBev Global Smart Drinking Goals

At Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), we have been seeking guidance from our Global Advisory Council and members of the public health community to evaluate how we can best contribute to the SDGs in addition to other global health targets. As a result, we are committing more than USD $1 billion over the next ten years to achieve new Global Smart Drinking Goals, which aim to reduce the harmful use of alcohol globally, including binge drinking, underage drinking and drink-driving.

We will support initiatives to change individual behaviors and social norms governing drinking, and we will empower consumers through choice.  This effort represents an evolution from our earlier “responsible drinking” initiatives, which aimed to drive awareness of alcohol responsibility to positively changing behavior by investing in longer-term, evidence based approaches.

To both ensure and measure progress, we will create an independent implementation and monitoring & evaluation framework for our Goals that is transparent, credible, and delivers results. We will also publicly report on progress on our website.

We have set four goals for ourselves that aim to empower consumers to make smart drinking choices and reduce the harmful use of alcohol globally:

  • Reduce the harmful use of alcohol by at least 10% in six cities by the end of 2020 and implement best practices globally by the end of 2025;
  • Influence social norms and individual behaviors to reduce harmful alcohol use by investing at least $1 billion across our markets in social marketing campaigns and related programs by the end of 2025;
  • Place a Guidance Label on all of our beer products in all of our markets by 2020 and increase alcohol health literacy by the end of 2025; and
  • Ensure no- and lower-alcohol beer products represent at least 20% of our global beer volume by the end of 2025, with which we anticipate a 10% reduction in our average alcohol by volume (ABV) that same year.
USE AB InBev photo

“The private sector has the opportunity to play a valuable role in addressing pressing societal challenges.  Governments can’t do it alone,” said Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Chairman of AB InBev’s Global Advisory Council. “AB InBev is demonstrating its leadership by seizing this opportunity to tackle harmful alcohol use globally over the next 10 years. Their Global Smart Drinking Goals have the potential to make a positive impact on people, families, and communities across the world.”

City-Based Pilot Programs

Our first goal will entail multi-year pilots in six cities where we will explore, together with our partners in government and civil society and with technical guidance from experts, the most effective approaches to reducing harmful alcohol use.  Demonstration and control cities in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, Mexico and the United States will be selected based on a robust set of eligibility criteria that optimize the potential for program impact. After the six-city pilot phase, we will extend the most effective approaches to all of our other global markets.

Social Norms Programs

Even while the pilot program is underway, we will begin to influence the powerful social norms that surround drinking across all of our global markets.  We will seek guidance from world-renowned public health experts and will put in place programs that have proven effective in influencing social norms and changing harmful drinking behavior.  Our advertising, marketing and social media expertise will help promote healthy drinking behaviors, and we’ll also look to those who can reach younger people with a convincing message.

Health Guidance Label

The World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that the labeling of alcoholic beverages and support of alcohol health literacy is a viable option to influence social norms about drinking and reduce alcohol misuse when part of a comprehensive strategy.

We will place a health guidance label on all of our beer products in all of our markets where permissible and not already required.  The label will be developed by an independent group of technical experts using a rigorous process and may include information about alcohol content, as well as other facts about alcohol, that can help to improve alcohol health literacy and positively shift consumption patterns.

Broader Array of No- and Lower-Alcohol Beers

There is a potential public health benefit in shifting consumption to lower-strength alcoholic beverages.  With this in mind, we have committed to expanding our no- and lower-alcohol product offerings across all of our markets so that they represent at least 20% of our global beer volume. We anticipate that this will contribute to a reduction in the alcohol by volume (ABV) of our global portfolio of products by at least 10% by 2025; we will be measured against this target.

The Global Smart Drinking Goals are meant to both acknowledge and contribute to a number of critical global targets, including the WHO’s goal to reduce the harmful use of alcohol by at least 10% between the years 2010 and 2025; the call by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for incisive private sector action to reduce the harmful use of alcohol; and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 3, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for everyone of all ages, including Target 3.5 to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including harmful use of alcohol.

We are excited about contributing to these global targets and — as the leading global brewer — by the opportunities that lie ahead to help improve the health of people and reduce the harmful use of alcohol worldwide. This work will certainly be challenging.  But by viewing our business through a public health lens, aligning our efforts with targets set by global institutions, and basing our programs on the best guidance and expertise from the public health community, we believe we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people everywhere, and “do right” while also “doing well.”

Scott C. Ratzan, M.D., M.P.A., is Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, AB InBev. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives, Adjunct Professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and on the Board of Scientific Counselors, Office of Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.