According to a research by Decision Lab in 2022, 73% of Vietnamese consider environmental issues extremely important, and on average, 66% are willing to pay more for sustainable products and services.
No longer a niche topic, sustainability has since then become the interest of an increasing number of people in Vietnam. But what is sustainability, and why it matters to consumers and businesses?
Vietcetera sits down with Nguyen Huu Hoang, Sustainability Manager – ESG at Heineken Vietnam, to have him explain the concept and share more about sustainability in action at one of the leading beer companies in Vietnam.
What’s it like working in sustainability at Heineken Vietnam?
At Heineken Vietnam, sustainability has been central to how we brew, promote and sell our beers – it is the way we run our business and stay close to the local community.
The work, therefore, goes beyond the Sustainability team – it runs across the company. The Sustainability team will work like a conductor in an orchestra, leading strategy, coordinating efforts from different functions and departments, and partnering with external stakeholders to realize our sustainability ambition of “Brewing A Better Vietnam.”
Our sustainability agenda covers three key areas of Environmental, Social, and Responsible, and accordingly, every year, we track our progress on our Path to Zero Impact, Path to an Inclusive, Fair, and Equitable World, and Path to Moderation and No Harmful Use.
What comes first, sustainability or growth?
I believe neither - as both must go hand in hand. Our sustainability ambition drives our growth in such a way that future generations can likewise grow with the same or even better resources than we are enjoying now.
In our strategy, Heineken Vietnam puts growth, profit, and capital on equal footing with sustainability and responsibility. We aim to get the balance right between short-term delivery and long-term sustainability and between top-line growth and overall stakeholder value creation.
Could you give an example to illustrate this point?
Let’s look into Responsible, one of our three sustainability pillars.
One might argue that it sounds counter-intuitive for a brewer to promote moderation and responsible drinking. But that’s what we are doing at Heineken Vietnam – as passionately as how we brew and promote our products.
Beer and cider, we believe, act as a catalyst for joy and togetherness. But we also believe beautiful moments in life can only be fully enjoyed with moderation and safety in mind. As one of the leading brewers in Vietnam, we have been advocating moderation and responsible consumption, with a sizable investment in running communication campaigns to increase public awareness.
We also look into providing alternative and innovative solutions to consumers, with low and no-alcoholic products like Heineken® 0.0, or ride-hailing offers to reinforce our message of “when you drive, never drink.”
Staying a responsible brand requires us to be relentlessly innovative. Sustainability ambition keeps us innovative and competitive and, as such, can drive business growth – now and into the future.
Among the sustainability projects you have been a part of, which one stands out as the most exciting?
The most exciting project I have joined is called the “Heineken Greener” campaign under the Heineken® brand.
Heineken has set its sights on becoming “greener everyday,” and it has applied this vision across our entire value chain. From sourcing inputs grown with sustainable agricultural principles to optimizing packaging recycling, our ambition is broad. A Heineken beer bottle, for instance, can be reused more than 20 times, while our beer crates can serve their purpose for up to 10 years before they are put into recycling. Even the labels be recycled too.
Yet our ambition is beyond just the product. We aspire to create greener experiences for our consumers too. Last year, together with my colleagues in the Heineken® brand, we launched our first environmentally friendly Heineken Greener Bar.
Everything at this Greener Bar has a life before or will have a longer life after the bar is gone. From returnable Heineken® bottles, crates, and wooden beer pallets, to plywood flooring made from recycled Heineken® labels - almost everything in the bar is reusable and recyclable.
Our first Greener Bar unveiled at the Heineken Silver Music Party, has since been reused in four different events over the past year. Through this initiative, we managed to collect over 50,000 beer cans for recycling and encouraged our consumers to be “greener everyday.”
Personally, I find great inspiration in Heineken’s idea of being “a little greener every day.” Sustainability is not all the time about ground-breaking ideas – it’s also many small, achievable actions everyone can do every day. And through these, we all can collectively contribute to a greener future.
What are some future challenges for sustainability?
Sustainability is attracting more interest from a range of stakeholders, from governments and organizations to businesses and consumers. Despite this attention, there is still a lot to learn about this field, especially in Vietnam – as the knowledge, expertise, and experience remain relatively novel.
In addition, we foresee tightening regulations, policies, and standards for sustainability. Businesses will have to find a balance between focusing on immediate growth and investing resources for sustainable long-term development.
Finally, since sustainability is a shared responsibility, it’s not likely any single business can succeed alone. So the next challenge is about fostering collaboration, garnering support, and building partnerships for this long-term journey.
How could someone start a career in sustainability?
Sustainability is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world. A career in sustainability is particularly appealing to the younger generations, particularly Gen Z, who generally favor a greener lifestyle.
The beauty of sustainability as a career is that you can come from a variety of backgrounds and work in different teams and departments. I myself graduated with a Marketing major and began as an intern on the Sustainability team at Heineken Vietnam. Six years and several positions later, I am now a Sustainability Manager with a focus on ESG.
For those who want to pursue a career in sustainability, especially when you come from a non-technical background like me, my advice is to dive in headfirst. Grab the opportunity and learn from the job.
At Heineken Vietnam, I have gained a wealth of specialized knowledge through various projects. I also had the opportunity to participate in the Nudge Global Impact Challenge in the Netherlands – a program for young talents worldwide to come up with sustainability ideas and bring them to life.
Through this program, and with the company’s support, my idea of recycling beer bottle caps to build bridges has materialized into successful projects in Tiền Giang and An Giang. A great idea can become a reality when we are ready to take a leap of faith and just do it!
Once we can get our foot in the door, there is so much to learn and do! I learn almost every day in my work – through professional training programs, through my colleagues and managers, and through knowledge and insight from industry forums.
Sustainability is an ever-evolving field. So let’s stay curious and find where we have the advantage to create an impact – we can shape the strategy and agenda as part of the Sustainability team, or we can also be driving specific sustainability efforts working in Supply Chain, Finance, or Marketing and Human Resources. The field is broad, and I believe it will continue to open up exciting career avenues in the near future.