Member Spotlight: Karen Kennedy

July 23, 2020 | BIER

Meet Karen Kennedy

Name: Karen Kennedy, Sustainability Senior Manager at PepsiCo

Company: PepsiCo

Connect with Karen 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’m a Sustainability Senior Manager in PepsiCo’s Office of Sustainability based in Cork, Ireland. I’ve been with PepsiCo for 10 years and I currently work on our Positive Water Impact Program. Specifically, I’m focused on optimizing our water footprint within our operations; integrating water risk into core business processes (such as capital investment, mergers and acquisitions due diligence); and adopting the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard (AWS) across our high water risk operations.

How has the company’s sustainability program evolved over the years and what are your specific priorities for 2020?

The sustainability agenda at PepsiCo has matured over the last 15 years, from a focus in the early days, on what we can do inside our own operations, where we developed the experience and confidence with sustainability, to now extending across our full value chain with ever more ambitious goals. We recognize that by taking a leadership position, leveraging our scale, influence, and by collaborating with other like-minded organizations we can move at a faster, more impactful pace in delivering a more sustainable food system.

Our sustainability strategy focuses on the six priority areas where we believe we can have the most meaningful impact: agriculture, water, climate, packaging, products, and people.  Advocacy plays a significant role as well, and it is an area we have further aligned with our expanded sustainability goals. The Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard (AWS) adoption across PepsiCo’s high-water risk geographies is a good case in point.

How do you feel being a BIER member will help you successfully address the key areas you are addressing in 2020?

The beverage sector is widely regarded as a leader in corporate water stewardship.  The collective effort on shared challenges, leveraging science and developing practical tools and guidance to bring others along with us on the sustainability journey, and not just the “established beverage giants” is valuable. The collaborative science-based nature of the BIER group offers each member company an opportunity to learn from each other as there is a good representation of subject matter expertise across the various working groups.

Being a BIER member allows us to share global insights based on our experiences as a group, facilitating differing viewpoints from both a strategic and tactical perspective.

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.

I really like the BIER Water, Energy and Emissions Benchmarking studies. They allow us to identify the industry leaders and establish what “Best in Class” looks like and to set ambitions for ourselves to meet and beat these benchmarks.

Also, I like the Context-based decision guide for water reuse and recycling published in January of 2020 related to normalizing water circularity and aiding broader adoption of water reuse and recycling across all industries and countries. There is a huge opportunity here if we can challenge and change perceptions.

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

At the end of 2019, PepsiCo appointed its first-ever Chief Sustainability Officer – Simon Lowden. This is a step-change for PepsiCo’s sustainability agenda, and it is allowing us to develop even more ambitious goals and integrate sustainability into our iconic brands.

For instance, climate change demands faster and bolder action from all of us and the resilience of our food system and the future of our planet depends on it. This urgency is why PepsiCo has signed 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 our 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 their critical and necessary contribution to limiting the worst impacts of climate change.

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?

Clairvoyance! And I’d give it to global leaders on the threat of climate change and their personal impact. I’d let them see and hear how their personal legacy of action or inaction is judged by future generations.

Current pandemic learnings on collective global action illustrate how proactive leadership can deliver timely positive impacts. Things that would have been seen as “impossible” to implement before have happened in days. So, people’s power to demand faster solutions and stepped up climate action needs to be a positive output from the current crisis.

PepsiCo’s sustainability program has evolved significantly over the last 10 years. Can you share more on the driving forces that have shaped the company’s sustainability journey?

As global sustainability knowledge within our company, the market, and our consumers has evolved, there’s a recognition that we can’t just stay within our four walls, or our own operations. We have to have more of an influence and an impact outside of that. There’s an awareness that we have to leverage our value chain in order to deliver the scale and sustainability change needed. So, that is what is happening.

Our sustainability goals are now focused around building a more sustainable food system. We are leveraging our complete value chain from our agricultural supply chain and our growers, to our manufacturing plants, distribution network and packaging.

So, what’s changed? Our own knowledge and expertise on sustainability and also consumer-driven market demands related to the plastics agenda. For example, helping to build a circular economy for plastics is a big focus area for us. PepsiCo is investing in recycling infrastructure where we operate because that is what is needed. We want to be at the leading edge of sustainability and actively involved in making a real difference at scale.

How do you find working with BIER members helpful as it relates to building new infrastructures for recycling and reclaiming plastics and packaging?

Working together is very helpful both at the global and local level. Collectively, we can leverage our scale and collaborate to do something a whole lot bigger than any of us could do alone. This approach is allowing us to have a significant impact in communities where we operate. We have a common goal so it just makes sense to work together. Additionally, it’s helpful to work with our peers who have similar challenges in the areas where we work. For example, water replenishment. These are some of the real benefits of BIER’s working groups.

Recently, BIER published the Context-Based Decision Guide for Water Reuse and Recycling. How would you advise a sustainability practitioner or a company that is just exploring water decision making in a context-based situation for a facility to use this guide?

The real benefit of the context-based decision guide is the ability to help startups move a lot faster in the sustainability space. Doing this on your own could take 10 years without this guidance. So, the guidance should get everybody to a certain level very quickly. It gives them the knowledge that’s been gained over the past 10, 15 years by the big beverage companies.

Beverage companies have been recognized as leaders in this space. They can provide a fast track option, without having to reinvent existing processes or applications of technologies. The guide can help normalize water circularity. The guide offers guidance as to what they can do, where they can, how they can get there fast and more cost-effectively.

Because the beverage industry depends on water for our business, this guide, along with other BIER benchmarking studies demonstrates that we are open to and willing to share what we’ve developed with everybody to bring others along with us on the sustainability journey. We’re all in this together!

BIER Publications referenced in this interview:
BIER Issues Results of 2018 Water, Energy, and Emissions Benchmarking Study

Context-Based Decision Guide for Water Reuse and Recycling

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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