PepsiCo CSO on embedding sustainability into ‘day-to-day business’

The number of companies proclaiming their intent to go net-zero by 2050 has expanded exponentially in the past 12 months, but the ones short-cutting that commitment by a decade are a rarer breed.

In mid-January, PepsiCo joined that club with a strategy to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent across its entire value chain by 2030 and to reach the elusive net-zero emissions status 10 years before it’s called for by the Paris Agreement. The latter commitment is one touted by members of The Climate Pledge, orchestrated by Amazon and Global Optimism, although PepsiCo isn’t a member of that campaign as of this writing.

The same week that PepsiCo announced its new ambition, the company’s foundation extended the terms of its 14-year-long relationship with the Inter-American Development Bank — with initiatives including a fund meant to promote the inclusion of women in regenerative, sustainable agricultural models in Latin America. The extension will see $6 million more invested through 2026, initially in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Guatemala.

Even though the foundation is a separate entity, there is a close link between its mission and the company’s sustainability goals, according to senior executives. These initiatives, for example, are thought of in terms of years rather than months.

“We have to have the certainty that the community will invest the time and willingness to go on with a program for several years, and we need to create awareness,” said PepsiCo’s Latin America CEO, Paula Santilli, when I asked her about how communities are selected. “We choose mathematically and analytically and concentrate on those communities on the wrong side of the poverty line.”

I’ve got history in sustainability, but I’m a business guy.

In addition to Santilli, I recently chatted with PepsiCo Chief Sustainability Officer Jim Andrew about the link between sustainability and community development, as well as the strategy behind some other developments announced as part of its updated climate strategy — such as its new Sustainable from the Start product development philosophy and two new internal carbon pricing programs meant to embed climate-centric thinking into everyday business decisions. Andrew, an avid scuba diver who joined PepsiCo about 4.5 years ago after heading strategy and innovation at Royal Philips, took over as CSO after Simon Lowden retired last fall.

“I think speed is of the essence, not just for PepsiCo, but for the whole world, for the planet and all the people in it,” Andrew told me when I asked for the motivation behind the accelerated goal. Following is a transcript of our discussion, edited for clarity and length.


Heather Clancy: The goals were finalized alongside the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Did that experience influence the final shape of the climate goals? Was anything adapted or reconsidered because of what was going on?

Jim Andrew: Certainly COVID-19 has been a challenge for everyone on multi levels. But what I think it’s done, it’s really shone a light on the need to be even bolder and move even faster. What has it done? It has, I think, sharpened the focus on the need to move urgently. We all saw that the food system is probably more fragile than we thought. We saw that the need for a food system that is sustainable, that is regenerative, that is inclusive, it’s probably bigger than we thought. In that respect, it didn’t influence what we wanted to do, but it probably helped re-emphasize the need to be big and be fast.

Clancy: You mentioned a couple of interim goals to the 2040 one. I’m just curious if you have other short-term milestones that we should expect or watch for. What should we watch for? And how will PepsiCo disclose them?

Andrew: You should watch for transparency, consistency and regularity in our reporting. We are completely open in that. Any goal we set, believe me, there’s a lot of work behind coming up with those goals. We put as much work into ensuring transparent reporting because it helps us be accountable — both internally and externally, candidly — and also helps us track progress.

We’re a company that likes to set a big objective out there and then go get it. One of the big parts of my job is mobilizing the organization. I’ve got history in sustainability, but I’m a business guy. I didn’t major in environmental science. I’m a business guy working to drive in partnership with our CEO, Ramon Laguarta, and the rest of my executive peers to really drive the organization forward. Having clear goals, having really good data integrity, is at the heart of all of our ESG reporting. That’s important because then we know how we’re doing. It also builds trust. That’s something that we take really importantly.

So what are you going to see from us? We’re going to report our progress annually in our sustainability report. We have one coming up in a few months and will be happy to talk to you again, when that comes out. Anytime we can provide real-time updates, we will. All of the reporting entities, we’re in alignment with — the Global Reporting Initiative, the CDP, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. We just issued our first [TCFD] report. So, we are going to be transparent; you’re going see it on a regular basis. Our objective is set some bold goals, and then go get them and hold ourselves accountable.

Clancy: Since you brought it up, how will you engage the PepsiCo organization to deliver, especially when we’re all in this new age of remote work?

Andrew: It’s been incredibly exciting to me to see just in four months the level of excitement in our organization. We’re 260,000-odd people around the world, 200-plus countries and territories. We’re a big complex organization, but there’s a level of interest and excitement. People get it. You ask me, how am I going to engage? There’s three things that you’ve got to do.

The first is you’ve got to excite people. With PepsiCo, when you announce an ambitious goal, like our climate goal, people get excited and they get energized. Honestly, a lot of our partners — our bottlers, our co-manufacturers, our suppliers — I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me and say, “Hey, this is really exciting. How can we help? We’re in on it.” So the first thing you got to do internally and also externally is excite and a big goal does that. You know, make no small plans?

I think that’s one of the real keys to make sustainability work. You got to embed it in the business strategy, the business processes and the actions everybody takes every day.

The second is, there is a level of education that’s important. When we talk to people internally about regenerative agriculture, Scope 3 emissions, those are terms that to most people are new. So we need to introduce those terms. We need to educate people on why the goals matter, but most importantly, how are we going to achieve them. Because that’s what it’s all really about, and we’re doing that across the company. Because we’re Scope 3, it’s got to be across your whole supply chain. We’ve rolled out, as part of the climate goal, a really well-done employee training program specific to our employees to help them understand the role of us as a company, and then the role of them as individuals. What can they do to mitigate climate change?

And then finally, it’s about engagement, it’s how do we take that excitement, take that education and then really engage people to drive real action. Because ultimately, it’s about action, it’s about results, it’s about moving the needle. And so that’s everything from, how do we give people the tools? How do we put it in their incentives? How do we talk about it on a regular basis? How do we measure it clearly, because what gets measured gets done, all those things. So: Excite, Educate and Engage.

Clancy: How will the Sustainable from the Start Program be implemented, and which product divisions will be first to adopt it?

Andrew: That’s a great question, because this is one of my real beliefs and one of my real emphases, which is how do you get sustainability not as something that happens “over there,” but that is really part of the day-to-day business, part of the day-to-day work. Because if it’s part of what we do every day, then it happens and that’s how you really drive action.

So, we’re looking at where there are business processes where we can embed sustainability. New product development is a great example. Everybody, every part of the company is interested in and cares about what happens in new product development. So we started this program called Sustainable from the Start, and it really puts sustainability at the heart of product design and new product development, because what it does is it encourages, but it also enables product development teams to make environmental impact a part of their decision-making from the very beginning as they think about the whole product life cycle.

We’ve rolled out some tools that really help, because you’ve got to make it simple. The less friction that we can introduce, the easier it’s going to be. So we gave people a set of tools, so that they can estimate, for example, the carbon and the water footprint of products and development, and what are the choices that they make early that are going to affect those footprints. And then they can compare that data to some best practice benchmarks that we’ve built in, so they know what good looks like and they can make more informed decisions. Things like recyclability impediments. If people don’t know, they will not be able to make the kind of decisions that they will if they’re informed. That gets back to the education point I was making as well. If they’re informed and they’re energized and they’re motivated, then they’re going to make decisions that will have big impacts as we move through the life cycle.

A big focus of the Sustainable from the Start program is reducing GHG emissions, sure, but also things like discouraging the use of non-recyclable packaging, because that’s really important. So we’ve conducted life-cycle analyses, carbon footprints. We’ve done it for about a quarter of all of our brands now, and we’ve got plans to get all of them done. When you’re a company as big as PepsiCo, you’ve got a lot of brands, so it takes a little while to go through. We’ll have more to share on this — again, transparency, openness. But it’s a great business tool that we’re actively embedding, so that people are thinking about this, from the beginning, as a part of their day-to-day jobs. Because I think that’s one of the real keys to make sustainability work. You got to embed it in the business strategy, the business processes and the actions everybody takes every day.

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Clancy: Can you share more detail about the internal carbon pricing programs? Why are you embracing them now? Did they take effect? When will they take effect?

Andrew: That’s another great example of where we’re trying to take environmental sustainability considerations and just put them in the normal flow of business. So, we’re going to have to collaborate and get employees involved, and also partners and suppliers and everything.

There’s a couple that we mentioned. One is, how do we eliminate the carbon impact of employee business air travel? A lot of people travel; a lot of people may or may not fully understand what the implications are of that. What we have done is we have said that anytime any employee is going to travel by air for business, we’re going to put a price on that. And then we’re going to take that money, and we’re going to deploy it with a third party into our supply chain. It’s not something that’s out there, it’s put into our supply chain, to fully eliminate the impact of the emissions from that flight. And it’s flight by flight. And it allows every employee, every time they book a flight, to see that their choice has an impact and also that we as a company will do something. Again, it’s about how do you excite people because people get excited about, “Hey, I can do something.” It’s about how you educate them, because it’s right there, it’s going to be in the booking tool. We are programming it, as we speak. Then it’s ultimately about how you engage them, so they go do something.

So that’s one. We’re rolling it out now. By the middle of this year, it’ll be up and running, full go. Then we’re also looking at how we build the carbon impact into carrier selection for third-party logistics. We’re working with our procurement team, so that the climate goals are a part of the consideration when they’re choosing carriers. Because what this will do is it will help you enforce, again, climate considerations and business decisions, which will help drive GHG reductions. And then we’re going to learn from these things, and we’re going to look for where can we continue to expand across other business processes, ways to just embed this into the everyday thinking in activities.

Clancy: Those are great examples. Thank you for being so specific.

Andrew: The carrier selection is being piloted right now. The employee air travel right now, obviously, we’ve got to do a little programming and not a lot of people are flying a whole lot right now. But the carrier selection program is being piloted right now.

Clancy: The pandemic has underscored the fragility of the recycling infrastructure around the world, as well as the food system. What new investments is PepsiCo making to improve collection? And what steps are you taking to increase the use of recycled content in your packaging?

Andrew: We have a very clear vision, and that’s a world where packaging never becomes waste. That is front and center for everything we do in packaging. There’s really three things that we have to [enforce that policy]. The first is reduce plastic use. The second is improve recycling, and the third is reinvent our packaging.

Let me talk about those now and answer your question. To improve recycling, especially as you say, given some of the challenges, this is a systemic change that is necessary and it requires a lot of partnerships across the full value chain. It requires collaboration between the public sector and the private sector. And it really is how do we work together end-to-end for a circular economy for plastics?

We set goals, and then we go and we work really hard to go achieve them. But you’ve got to be transparent along the way about what’s working, what’s not.

Specifically to your question, in the last three years, we’ve pledged more than $65 million globally for recycling and collection. A little over a year ago we issued our first green bond. It was a $1 billion green bond. We’ve allocated just about half of that, I think it was $447 million, of the proceeds to projects that advance sustainability. Roughly $200 million of that was specifically to procure recycled PET in our North American beverage packaging. You want to talk about creating a market, that’s creating a market. We have brands, whole brands that are [using] 100 percent recycled PET in Europe. We’ve targeted 100 percent recycled PET in nine countries for our lineup of Pepsi-branded beverage bottles by the end of 2022.

We’re working to both support the recycling infrastructure in partnership with other people in the supply chain, public entities, competitors, because this is something that we all have to work on. And then we’re also working at driving demand because if we drive demand and make clear what our commitments are, that helps support the investments that people need to make all along the chain. [Editor’s note: PepsiCo brands using 100 percent PET for their packaging include LIFEWTR, Tazo Tea and Naked Juice.]

Clancy: The PepsiCo Foundation has invested considerably in cultivating economic growth and opportunities for women and disadvantaged communities around the world. How does the PepsiCo corporate sustainability team collaborate on those projects? How do they shape the execution of your strategy? How are they aligned?

Andrew: We work very closely with the foundation. Again, this is a great example of where we work to use the scale and the reach that PepsiCo has to have a positive impact really across communities around the world, where we operate and to really show some leadership in helping to build a food system that’s sustainable, regenerative and inclusive, to your point. So what we’re always trying to do is work on both people and planet. The foundation and the business have very much those objectives.

A good example of collaboration — in addition to the climate news we announced — was the announcement where PepsiCo, in particular our Latin American operations, with our CEO there, Paula Santilli, and the PepsiCo Foundation announced that they are expanding the social and environmental impact partnership that we have with the Inter-American Development Bank.

We will go another five years through 2026. It’s a nearly $6 million investment. It builds on the heels of what has been a very successful investment in a partnership over the last 14 years. Over the last 14 years, we’ve supported about 19 million people across Latin America and the Caribbean, on five big pillars of things that are really, really important: water access; nutrition; sustainable agriculture; inclusive recycling; and disaster relief programs. There’s a great example of where the business, the foundation and third parties have been able to collaborate in ways that are more powerful. It’s one of those one plus one plus one equals probably seven. A lot of people have had been helped by a partnership that none of the organizations could do by themselves.

Clancy: What’s on your mind right now that I haven’t asked about that you feel like we should talk about more?

Andrew: This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. The challenges that the world is facing, when it comes to climate — again, go back to our recent climate announcement, which is top of mind — are challenges where no company, no government, no NGO can do it themselves. The need for collaboration, for partnership, for working together, has never been higher. These are difficult challenges. These are not things that can be solved by any one entity, and they’re not things that are there to be solved overnight. But they are also things that we can’t wait on.

The science is clear, the need is clear; the time to act is now. All of us have to find partners to move forward. There’s going to be some mistakes, there’s going be some things that won’t work but together, we have to work together, find those areas of common interest and where we can complement each other, and then move forward with urgency. That’s why we looked and said: “We want big goals, we want goals that will motivate not only ourselves internally, but also other folks externally.” I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people saying, “Hey, great, how do we team up? I see you’re interested in this; how can we work together on that?” That’s what we need.

I wake up every day, I wake up every morning, and I worry about what’s going on and sustainability and how PepsiCo is going to drive forward and meet our goals and move the needle on things. But I also think about, how can we do that with others? So, to me, that’s so important and I’m not sure that is fully appreciated by everybody who needs to work together.

Clancy: There is a certain amount of skepticism about some of these big alliances right now. How do you keep them relevant and authentic?

Andrew: You have to be open, transparent; you’ve got to build trust; and then you’ve got to show results. I think if those things happen, a lot of problems are going to take care of themselves.

Back to the question you asked about milestones, transparency. We don’t set goals that we don’t think we can achieve. We don’t know always how we’re going to achieve them because they are big goals, and they’re bold, and they’re aggressive. But that’s what’s needed. But we don’t set ones just to get a headline or, as much as I love talking to you, we don’t set big goals just to be able to go do interviews. We set goals, and then we go and we work really hard to go achieve them. But you’ve got to be transparent along the way about what’s working, what’s not. How are we doing?

Clancy: I just have one last question. What’s your most important priority as a chief sustainability officer at this time?

Andrew: Oh, that’s easy. I’ve probably got the best job in the company because I get a combination of the chief sustainability role, and also some business responsibilities, which are all about sustainability. But the most important thing is easy, which is achieving the goals we’ve set. That’s hard to do, but easy to say. But that’s the priority.

Ultimately it’s about how do we make the planet better for both the planet and for the people on the planet. How do we drive forward results around climate? How do we reduce emissions? How do we increase our renewable electricity to 100 percent globally? How do we end up at net-zero? That’s what is the most important part of my job. That’s what motivates me, because that’s what ultimately will show up and create real change. I need to work with a whole lot of people internally — 260,000 people have all got to be pulling in that direction. It starts at the top and goes all the way down to our frontline workers, but it also is true externally. But that’s my priority 1, 2, 3, working in every way that I can, with everybody to help us achieve the results that we know are necessary for the planet and the people on it.