PepsiCo practices performance with purpose in sustainability push

Energy, packaging and water usage are three primary pillars of its sustainability innovation investments.

Consumer beverage, foods and goods company PepsiCo prefers to think about sustainability not as means to cut costs but as the means to innovation. Its performance with purpose mantra comes down from on high: it is preached every day by CEO and chairman Indira Nooyi and its goals get prominent play on the company's corporate web site.

But what's even more compelling is that PepsiCo is apparently living by what it is marketing.

I recently had a chance to speak with David Walker, director of environmental sustainability, about how this philosophy is put into practice. For the purposes of this particular blog, I'll focus on three of its primary objectives: to reduce electricity usage across each plant, to use water more responsibly, and to be kinder to the "land," a goal that is expressed in the myriad changes that PepsiCo is making when it comes to packaging.

"This has had a lot of implications when it comes to how our employees behave with respect to getting their jobs done," Walker says. "Our goals have become refined and expanded."

Writing about everything that PepsiCo is doing with respect to corporate sustainability would take up pages here in cyberspace, so here are three highlights from my conversation with Walker that are pretty profound in their own right.

  • PepsiCo is making largescale investments in renewable energy. Its goal is, in effect, to decouple plants from the electric grid where possible, Walkers says. An example is the investment made two years ago in a 1.65-megawatt wind turbine in India; whatever isn't used by PepsiCo's plant is fed back into the grid. Frankly speaking, the poor state of the electricity infrastructure in India drove the effort, and a second turbine project is under way. Elsewhere in that country, biofuels are used to drive boiler and steam systems.It is worth noting that PepsiCo used to put a huge focus on buying renewable energy certificates. But this year it began accelerating its practical investments. In the U.S. alone, that investment will be upwards of $30 million over the next three years.

  • Fresh water is, of course, a huge focus for PepsiCo, considering that its business relies on its very existence. One cool initiative that was particularly intriguing to me was PepsiCo's use of waterless rinsing to cut down on waste, a practice that Walker say was pioneered by its Gatorade operation. "One of the biggest users of water is the rinsing of the containers. It can be 30 percent or more of the water we use," Walker says. In Australia, the company is applying membrane bioreactor technology in order to help purify water to a fresh state.

When I asked Walker to explain how he is able to justify the capital expenditures for these new approaches, he said many of the projects have a return on investment that is often better than expected. Take its renewable energy initiatives. "In India, the cost of these renewable energy sources of energy is less than that of diesel or fuel oil, so we save money on the fuel itself. As a result, we get some return on investment. We manage our capital as a portfolio, only now we have a sustainability filter."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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