PepsiCo Sustainability Expert Says, ‘Get Invited to Someone Else’s Sandbox’: Summit Summary

(Credit: PepsiCo Beverages North America)

Jason Blake, chief sustainability officer for PepsiCo Beverages North America, helped kick off the Environment + Energy Leader Solutions Summit with his keynote on embedding sustainability across the value chain. PepsiCo believes that the journey to achieving collective goals begins with a deep commitment to sustainability at the forefront of all business practices.

On the backdrop of the company’s accelerated goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, Blake discussed how to embed sustainable innovation across the value chain, from the very beginning of the product lifecycle and throughout operations. Here are some of the highlights of his talk.

  • Engage with suppliers: Working with suppliers on their sustainability efforts is not an “arms-length, send them an email kind of thing,” according to Blake. Engage with suppliers and educate them on why sustainability is important, Blake suggests. Often, there are varying degrees of sophistication among suppliers, and some need more help than others. Think holistically, and give every supplier the opportunity to engage. “Many, dare I say all, of them want to do the right thing,” Blake says. “Engagement generally starts with an understanding of the facts: where we are today and where we want to get to.”
  • Just start talking: A small, concrete step companies can take to jumpstart their own sustainability journeys is to start talking about it. “Don’t keep it confined to a small community within the company,” Blake says. “People want to know about these things. Talk about sustainability as often as possible and let people know where you are in the journey.”
  • Build sustainability competence within the company: When a certain level of competence about sustainability has been reached within a company, the subject begins to be built into all business decision. Think about how you can build competence throughout the organization so that you don’t have to have a sustainability team member in every meeting. When all employees know how they can be good stewards of the environment, it can drive an organization “long and far,” Blake says. “Start to democratize the information.” There’s an unbelievable thirst for people to know where their company is along the journey. Give them the information they’re seeking and they’ll even start learning it on their own time, he adds.
  • Get invited to other sandboxes: Blake says his team spends a lot of time getting disparate groups within the organization together to talk about sustainability. “I like to use the analogy of a sandbox,” he says. “It’s one thing to have people come to your sandbox, but how do you get invited to someone else’s sandbox?” It’s a badge of honor to be invited to other sandboxes to be included in talks not just about sustainability, but about other business decisions. “This one is not easy,” he says. “Organizations like [PepsiCo] hire really smart people to drive agendas, and getting people to talk across those agendas is really hard work.” To approach this challenge, work to get people speaking a common language. “Once they do, they’re more willing to ask the open-ended question of, ‘How should I think about this?’” His team spends “an inordinate amount of time thinking about how we can build that within the organization,” he adds. Once silos begin to break down, people become more willing to engage across functions and across businesses.

Don’t miss day two of the Environment + Energy Leader Solutions Summit for more content from sustainability and energy management experts. Register here.

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