GLOBE Foundation

Greening Pepsi, from fertilizer to bottles

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Source: GLOBE Foundation

Pepsi recently demonstrated its commitment to reducing its environmental impacts up and down the value chain with two rapid-fire announcements about new initiatives. The old-school approach to greening is to focus on operations within the proverbial 'four walls.' But Pepsi, like other leaders, is approaching sustainability more holistically, with much greater impact.

I recently spoke with Tim Carey, Pepsi's Director of Sustainability for Beverages in the Americas, about two big initiatives in which he's playing a key role.

First, on the downstream side, Pepsi looked for ways to raise the recycling rate of beverage containers from a relatively paltry 34% to 50% or higher. Working with GreenOps, a division of Waste Management, Pepsi launched a new program called 'Dream Machine.' These 'reverse' vending machines, now being placed in high-traffic areas such as gas stations and stadiums, take back those often-abandoned and often-unrecycled empty bottles and give users points toward rewards from sponsors or local merchants.

But Pepsi has gone beyond those relatively minor incentives to add on a social mission. The program will also help fund Pepsi's donation to a group called Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), which trains vets at business schools around the country. Pepsi expects that the combined immediate points and larger mission will drive new, greener customer behaviors - and help solve one of the beverage industry's most intractable value chain problems.

Second, Pepsi has embarked on a very unusual supply chain effort to reduce the carbon emissions associated with its Tropicana orange juice. After conducting a full life-cycle analysis of the product line, the company was relatively surprised to find that the biggest portion of the carbon footprint was found not in manufacturing, or distribution, but actually back in the agriculture stage - primarily the result of the heavily natural-gas dependent process of making fertilizer (see chart).

The analysis showed Pepsi execs where the largest impacts were, and thus where they'd get the biggest bang for their buck on carbon reductions. The company started working with suppliers and farmers to find new ways to make and apply fertilizer. For example, instead of using natural gas from as far away as Russia (which then requires shipping heavy fertilizer across the world), Pepsi is using biomass from closer to home. Wood waste and agricultural by-products are two sources, but execs are hopeful they can also use the large number of their own orange rinds left over in manufacturing, which would fully close the loop.

The company is also working with scientists on the root chemistry of orange trees, applying fungi and bacteria to increase the uptake of nutrients. All that techno-speak means that the trees will need less fertilizer in total, which means less manufacturing and shipping of that fertilizer and, voila, a smaller footprint.

A 100-acre test run of these new methods of working with new, low-carbon fertilizer is underway. A few years from now, Pepsi and its suppliers will know what's working and what isn't.

But here's the best part: the cost of these changes to consumers and growers will be about zero. And it had to be. Let's face it, this kind of carbon reduction isn't easy to convey to consumers, so the market benefit may be small for now. So the sustainability team needed to find ways to lower the fertilizer footprint without causing any additional cost to suppliers or farmers. How did they do it?

As sustainability exec Tim Carey put it, 'It's not unusual to spend tens of millions of dollars removing some carbon from a manufacturing process at returns that can be 10% or less...or we can take 15% of total carbon out in the fertilizer step without costing anything.'

The impacts of these tests - and future rollout - will not be small; Pepsi buys a fairly shocking one-third of the Florida orange harvest. And the recycling work could shift millions of bottles out of landfills. Pepsi's full value chain view on sustainability is deep green stuff - this is how you implement green thinking.

Andrew Winston works with leading companies to drive growth with environmental thinking. He is a globally recognized expert on sustainability and is author of Green Recovery and co-author of Green to Gold, the best-selling guide to what works - and what doesn't - when companies go green. This article was first published in Harvard Business Review Online.

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