Member Spotlight: Erich Yaeger

October 27, 2022 | BIER

Meet Erich Yaeger
Erich Yaeger, Sr. Corporate Responsibility Project Manager

Company: Keurig Dr Pepper

Connect with Erich on LinkedIn

Welcome to our series aimed at spotlighting the individual leaders within BIER member companies and stakeholder organizations. Learn how these practitioners and their companies are addressing pressing challenges around water, energy, agriculture, climate change, and what inspires each of them to advance environmental sustainability in the beverage sector and collectively, overall.

Briefly describe your role and responsibilities and how long you have worked with your company.

I am a senior project manager at Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP). I’ve been with KDP for almost two years. In my role, I work on the climate and environment team, where I wear a couple of different hats.

At Keurig Dr Pepper we have several pillars on the “Drink Well. Do Good.” platform. We have supply chain, health and wellbeing, people and communities and then environment. I focus on climate and environment and address topics relevant to emissions, climate change, water scarcity and waste. A large part of my work centers around our greenhouse gas and water footprint strategy and managing data. I’m responsible for collecting data from across the organization and our partners, and then producing KDP’s metrics for water, waste, and climate.

Environmental data has never been more in the spotlight than it is right now. From employees to investors, we are constantly being asked to transparently report and disclose environmental metrics to demonstrate progress against key performance indicators. Proudly, I can share that robust data is available in our 2021 Corporate Responsibility Report.

The other role I have requires me to be on the ground in our plants to identify and manage opportunities for sustainability initiatives throughout our operations. My background is in energy engineering. Before coming to KDP, I worked on energy projects, specifically decarbonization projects with manufacturing and industrial plants. Transferring that experience to KDP, I work with our plants on pushing forward initiatives for reducing water waste and for exploring new opportunities for our waste streams.

For example, we have a 100% diversion from landfill goal. I work with our plants to find creative reuses of material by diverting as much from landfill as we can. Specific to climate, there are a lot of projects that I work with our plants on in terms of energy efficiency, including leading new initiatives to try to equip our plants with the internal expertise they need but also connect them with the experts in the field who can make our operations more sustainable and efficient.

How has the company’s sustainability program evolved over the years, and what are your specific priorities for 2022?

2022 has been a transformational year for us. While we set a very ambitious corporate responsibility agenda when Keurig Dr pepper was formed through a merger in 2018, we took critical steps this year to advance our impact.

Specifically, we announced our ambition to achieve net positive water impact by 2050. That means we will shift beyond our own water stewardship within our operations to account for water use across our entire value chain. Meaning, beyond solely focusing on water replenishment, we will now address the quality of and access to water in our highest water risk areas. We also joined the Water Resilience Coalition – an industry-driven coalition of the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate. By doing this, Keurig Dr Pepper is joining like-minded and action-oriented companies from across the globe. Our new net positive water impact aspiration is one great example of how we are continuing to evolve and enhance our impact.

Another priority for us this year is regenerative agriculture. We recently set the goal to support regenerative agriculture and conservation on 250,000 acres of land by 2030, representing 50% of the land used to grow our top climate-sensitive crops. What makes this goal unique is that it represents the way forward for how we are evolving our approach to material ESG issues – the intersection of supply chain, climate and water.

Since joining KDP two years ago, the one common thread I have observed is that collective impact is essential to our ability to advance our corporate responsibility agenda. Partnering with organizations like BIER, we are able to expand and multiply our impact on projects like Charco Bendito. That project is BIER-led, industry-supported, and has made a bigger difference in the community where it is located than Keurig Dr Pepper could make alone.

How do you feel being a BIER member will help you successfully address the key areas you are addressing in 2022?

BIER provides a great forum for collective action, and the Charco Bendito project is a model of that. As we expand our water stewardship approach, we look forward to partnering with BIER on projects that focus on the quality, access and replenishment of water in our highest-risk water communities.

Moreover, the shared resources that I have used from BIER are very relevant to the work I am doing in our plants. I have found the guides to be very practical, as they are not high-level theoretical content. They are workbooks that I can use in my day-to-day job.

Additionally, I appreciate BIER’s receptivity to feedback from its member companies and incorporating it when forming this year’s workstreams. BIER has been very flexible and committed to addressing the most relevant needs of the member companies.

Name one of the practical solutions or best practices you learned in working with BIER and its members and why it was important to you and/ or your company.

The True Cost of Water Toolkit is one that we use. Water is definitely undervalued in most places in North America, and a big part of my job is to show my stakeholders, including our plants, the economic and sustainability benefits of funding a water project. Using the True Cost of Water Toolkit enables us to factor in all of the costs associated with a project, such as energy, chemical treatment and the cost of treating and processing water. This helps us demonstrate the economic viability of our water projects compared to only calculating the costs for water and sewer. Having an industry expert like BIER provide the guide adds credibility to the information and the best practices that I am sharing with those in the plants.

The Water and Energy Benchmark study is another valuable resource. I’ve found that to be an extremely useful report when looking at our year-to-year performance compared to our peers. Sometimes it can be hard to take a look at our own plants and say, “What does good look like?” Questioning, “How are we doing on water performance or energy performance or anything like that?” Having this reference helps me identify the plants that are performing well and then build on those best practices to create our plans internally.

Share a recent accomplishment of your company’s sustainability initiatives/achievements you are most proud of and why.

While there are several that I could choose from, one, in particular, stands out. We recently piloted all-electric forklifts in two of our distribution centers in the United States. The pilot was extremely successful in that it saved 67 percent of the facility’s forklift emissions and the distribution centers taking part saw cost savings as well. Our fleet team was so impressed with the results that they have committed to phasing in electric forklifts across all distribution centers and warehouses in the next couple of years.

While this is a very small part of our carbon footprint, the project overall is an example that the sustainable choice can also be the economical choice as well. Specifically, we found that in addition to emissions reductions, the electric forklifts required less maintenance, ultimately saving our plants time and money.

If you had one superpower that could be used to radically accelerate and scale sustainable best practices, which one would it be, and how would you use it?

My superpower would be the ability to shoot positivity and optimism from my fingertips to others – like lightning bolts. I say this because when working on these complex issues, a positive, collaborative mindset can make amazing things in sustainability happen. Particularly when talking about the daunting task ahead of us to address climate change and protect the environment, there can sometimes be a tendency to approach it negatively. But when people bring a positive and optimistic attitude, the world can change and change for good.

Working with my fellow employees in our plants, I see every day that they want to do the right thing for their communities, that they are committed to being good stewards of the environment, and that they want to make the sustainable choices to improve where they live and work. If I had the superpower to zap positivity, I would zap positivity into sustainability conversations that would help us to achieve a positive impact.

BIER Publications referenced in this interview:

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Sector Guidance
True Cost of Water Toolkit

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector.
By BIER [crp]

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector. Formed in 2006, BIER is a common voice across the beverage sector, speaking to influence global standards on environmental sustainability aspects most relevant to the sector, affect change both up and down the supply chain and share best practices that raise the bar for environmental performance of the industry. By doing so, BIER is able to monitor data and trends, engage with key stakeholders, develop best practices, and guide a course of action for the future.

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