Member Spotlight: David GrantDecember 17, 2020 | BIER
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 the director of Global Water Stewardship at PepsiCo, however I have only been in the role since mid-2020. Prior to that, I spent three years with AB InBev, where I was the head of sustainable development for the Africa sector, and prior to that, I was with SABMiller. So, in total, I have been in the beverage industry for a good part of 20 years.
Now, in terms of my actual role within PepsiCo, it is to oversee PepsiCo’s water stewardship agenda and support the company in moving forward in delivering its global water strategy. That includes covering both internal water use efficiency, which is basically making sure that we extract the most value out of every drop that comes into our facilities, and also the broader Programs implemented to support broader conservation of the watersheds we source our water from.
How has the company’s sustainability program evolved over the years and what are your specific priorities for 2020?
As with most companies, PepsiCo’s initial focus was internal. Focusing on operational best practice and building internal capacity and capabilities. Fast forward to today, our sustainability program spans our entire value chain. We are also very focused today, meaning we have a good understanding of where our key impacts and risk areas are and as a result, setting aggressive goals, and deploying resources to these areas.
While I don’t think this is necessarily unique to PepsiCo, I do think that PepsiCo recognized early on that the company had a much broader role to play in the communities and natural environment it operates in. In other words a responsibility other than just a pure profit motive. This is probably best evidenced in our sustainability strategy launched in 2006, which was called Performance with Purpose.
From my perspective, I think that was an pivotal moment for PepsiCo. For example, in 2009, Naked in the US announced its intention to go 100% rPET, which was well before any major plastic headlines came up. It’s important to note that plastics wasn’t as big a focus back then as it is now. This illustrates the fact how the company was thinking about this ahead of time. Also, in 2010, the first electric truck delivery hit the streets in the US, which again, was slightly ahead of the curve (See more on PepsiCo’s sustainability journey dating back to 2006, linked here.)
In terms of the overall value chain approach and being a food and beverage company, a large part of our footprint is in agriculture. Over the years, the agriculture programs have become increasingly ambitious. Around 2013, PepsiCo launched our Sustainable Farming Program, which really works with farmers to test a range of sustainable regenerative farming approaches. That is everything from smart irrigation practices soil health management to human rights and improvements to worker safety on farms, which is often a neglected area. Today, more than 44,000 farmers are part of this program globally. I am always amazed at the level of reach and engagement that we have into our agriculture supply chain.
When I think in terms of water, moving beyond water efficiency and towards a broader stewardship approach, we recognize the role we need to play in protecting and conserving, along with other stakeholders, the watersheds we all share and rely on.
How do you feel being a BIER member will help you successfully address the key areas you are addressing in 2020?
I think firstly that there’s an informal network that you develop with your partners. It’s the kind of network where you can pick up the phone and feel comfortable bouncing an idea off someone, testing theory, or getting support or understanding of something. So, it’s really about being able to get an external perspective on an issue with someone who’s in the same space as you, who knows what you’re going through.
Secondly, there is the formal network which is that space where collaboration can take place, as in harnessing the wide range of professional experiences and know-how to find ways of tackling some of the pressing sustainability challenges we face today. Along with the practical support that comes with being a BIER member, such as the benchmarking and the workstreams, I find that that plays an incredibly important role.
Finally, given that there seems to be a lot of noise around the sustainability agenda with so many conferences, publications, articles, people’s opinions, and so forth, it can be a very crowded area. I think BIER helps cut out that noise so you can focus on what is important.. In my opinion, within each sustainability-focused space, one can get lost very quickly in terms of what to do, what are the things you should be focusing on, how do you prioritize, et cetera. I think BIER helps provide much needed clarity.
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.
Given my focus area which is on water, what I really like are the context-based publications. Specifically, the Context-Based Decision Guide for Water Reuse and Recycling. Also, the Performance in Watershed Context publication that BIER published.
I like these for the simple reason that water resources are often spoken about in the same way carbon is – as a global problem. Without stating the obvious, unlike carbon, water is so particular to a basin and even sub-basin, for that matter, that understanding and the context is everything. Without it, you know you are in essence shooting in the dark and hoping to hit something. I think these documents really help focus. They are particularly useful to those individuals and companies that are new to the area of water stewardship to help them to understand what to look for, how to understand what the issues are, and to put into perspective that wherever you are addressing a water risk, it’s going to be unique to that location. There are learnings that are broadly applicable and can probably be shared across different geographies, but almost invariably they’ll need to be tailored to a particular region.. What these context-based publications do, is give you the best toolkit to help understand how to put that in place.
Share a recent accomplishment of your company’s sustainability initiatives/achievements you are most proud of and why.
PepsiCo has had a lot of important sustainability achievements in recent years. One of the things that was really interesting to me was the company’s acquisition of SodaStream. I feel it pushed PepsiCo into a new frontier in terms of addressing the packaging challenge. It’s also a new way of thinking about delivering a product to a consumer, providing consumers the option to prepare personalized beverages in their own home in reusable bottles. Over its lifetime, it is estimated that one SodaStream bottle can help avoid the use of thousands of single-use bottles and through growth of PepsiCo’s SodaStream business, we estimate that this will help avoid 67 billion single-use plastic bottles through 2025.To me, SodaStream is an interesting example of how we can innovate and explore new options as we think about the next generation of products delivered straight to consumers.
In regards to water, what I found really inspiring is that PepsiCo set a goal of reaching 25 million people by 2025 with safe water access. The company achieved the goal five years ahead of schedule. That is a massive achievement and then to reach 44 million people versus the 25 million targeted. The success was of such magnitude that PepsiCo set a new goal to reach 100 million by 2030. When you think about 100 million people, it really blows my mind that a company has the ability to have that sort of reach and impact that many people. So, for me personally, that was really something. It strongly demonstrates what the private sector is capable of doing.
Another important initiative is PepsiCo’s commitment to the Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge, which is an urgent call to action, led by a global coalition of UN agencies, business, and industry leaders. From the way we grow our crops to the coolers that display our products, PepsiCo has already made significant progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout its value chain, and we’re now working to do even more. More on our efforts to deliver against this target will be shared in the coming months. By setting a science-based target in line with a 1.5°C future, businesses can make a critical and necessary contribution to limiting the worst impacts of climate change. Again, for me, this demonstrates that PepsiCo is committed and is pushing into that leadership position acknowledging that we are part of the problem and that we need to be part of the solution as well.
A unique and interesting initiative was that in 2019, PepsiCo issued a green bond to fund and support key sustainability initiatives. What is interesting about this is that it is a great example of a company “thinking outside of the box” in terms of how to fund programs that might not necessarily always meet the cut from a purely commercial point of view. Because of our sustainability commitments, it is essential that we can fund them. The green bond is a great way to get these programs off the ground, particularly internal programs in which we may find ourselves hitting efficiency barriers from a water perspective or energy/carbon perspective, whatever the case may be. (For more, read our full Green Bond Report, linked here.)
Lastly, there’s one other accomplishment that I am proud of and that is the journey we are on. The efficiency work we are doing is fantastic. We have some big, bold targets. Our water replenishment work is also great. We have a target to replenish 100 percent of the water used in our facilities in high-water-risk areas. This is quite a bold ambition. Basically, we are saying that for every single drop of water that is used on our site, we’re going to put that back into the watershed where it came from. And when you actually see the type of projects that are getting activated through partners like The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it’s really amazing to see what can be done. Just think, if we had more corporates on this sort of journey, we could really make a dent on the water issues that we face.
(For more on PepsiCo’s sustainability accomplishments, see our 2019 Sustainability Report.)
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 super power would be chronokinesis which is the ability to manipulate time. The reason why I say that is in theory we have the know-how and we have the tools to tackle the mammoth sustainability challenges we all face across climate change, water, packaging etc. We know how to do it. The solutions are there.
However, as you know, time is a constant wall that we bang ourselves against whether it is as a company, society, or government. If there was a way to get more time, and accelerate the work that needs to get done now , then I think we have the potential to follow a very different trajectory compared to where we are likely to find ourselves in the future. We need to do so much more and quicker if we are to avert what the scientists are predicting. If we had more time, or we could pause time, I think that would really be really helpful from a sustainability agenda point of view.
Again, in reality, we have the knowledge and the know-how and the tools to do stuff right. I think there’s always a risk of trying to find the perfect solution to a problem rather than dissecting and saying we kind of seem to know where this is. Yet, the time is now. Let’s crack on with it. We can’t afford to “kick the can” down the road because the longer you kick it down the road, the bigger the impact is likely to be at the end of the day, and the more resources we have to put in to try to combat it. We can’t afford to wait for another five, ten, or fifteen years for whether it’s the government or society or companies or others to come on board on this journey. That has to happen now.
BIER Publications referenced in this interview:
Context-Based Decision Guide for Water Reuse and Recycling
Performance in Watershed Context
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.
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