Stakeholder Spotlight: Dan Bena

March 24, 2020 | BIER

Dan Bena

Name: Dan Bena, CEO; Water Steward; Award-winning PepsiCo Executive; Writer; Keynoter; Board Member; Hon. Professor/Trustee; SDG Advocate; Consultant


Connect with Dan on LinkedIn and Twitter

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 organization?

Let’s see…you have to bear with me on this answer because it’s a little involved. I currently have three “official” roles: one is as CEO of my own consultancy,, and the other is as Senior Advisor to Paul Newman’s charity, Safe Water Network. I am also an Honorary Professor and Trustee for Glasgow Caledonian New York College, which is home of the Fair Fashion Center—dedicated to profitable sustainability in the fashion world. I think the most relevant role for the purposes of BIER, though, is when I was Head of Sustainable Development for PepsiCo’s Global Operations and served as their Corporate Water Steward for decades. I was with PepsiCo for 34 years and left two years ago to write another chapter, which is starting up my own purpose-based business.

While I was at PepsiCo, I was honored to have been the person to bring BIER to the company, as an early inaugural member, when BIER was only focused on water, and it has been a pleasure to see how robustly they have evolved and expanded from those early days! It was Dr. Paul Bowen at the Coca-Cola Company who recruited me to join. In those days, not even that long ago, people were shocked to think that Coke and Pepsi would even think of working together. We recognized that things like water stewardship should transcend competition in many ways and that there was power in speaking as a unified voice of the sector. Now, these “pre-competitive” approaches are much more mainstream.

So glad I took Paul’s call that day!

How have the organization’s sustainability initiatives evolved over the years and what are your priorities for 2020?

Hmmm…let me answer this in two ways: through a PepsiCo lens, and through a much broader lens. I know, it seems like every answer from me has a story!

As far as PepsiCo goes, I am no longer an employee, so this doesn’t officially represent the company or its partners in any way. But, a lot happened over three decades, and I was part of that amazing ride. I remember when the company’s then CEO, Steve Reinemund (2001–2006), returned from Davos one year, and immediately convened his senior leaders from around the world, and told them about the buzz of “sustainability” being discussed at Davos. He asked for volunteers to be a part of the inaugural “Sustainability Task Force,” and there was a ton of interest. The funny part is that sustainability was far from mainstream at that point, and—frankly—I’m not even sure that everyone who volunteered really understood what sustainability was…and they weren’t alone. Hard to believe how very different things were almost 20 years ago.

The good news is that the interest that was sparked that day took on a life of its own. It was a unique convergence of two things: one was the “top-down” support for sustainability that we were fortunate to have from Mr. Reinemund, and the other was a parallel grassroots movement bubbling up from our manufacturing plants around the world…where employees were becoming interested in doing their part to help the planet. The top-down and bottom-up forces merged somewhere in the middle, and it was like an atom being split—the energy that resulted was indescribable. We started at the logical place, resource use within our direct operations…where most companies start. It’s where you have the most control, and when you see early “wins” there, it’s a great way to fuel the momentum for the tougher things, like expanding to tier one suppliers, tier two suppliers, and even farther out in what can be very complicated supply chains. That’s a very long-term journey…much more difficult than direct operations. The irony is that your supply chain is usually where the largest environmental impact lies, but it’s also where you have diminishing control and ability to measure. Those kinds of resource efficiency metrics kept us busy for years.

Then, when Indra Nooyi took over as Chair and CEO (2006-2018), she really helped write history with “Performance with Purpose.” A ton has been written about it—in fact, the March/April issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) has a piece co-authored by Ms. Nooyi, all about becoming a better corporate citizen. Worth a read. Mr. Reinemund brought science and intellect to the front end of PepsiCo’s sustainability journey. Ms. Nooyi maintained that focus but also brought heart to the story, which was the “secret sauce” that really started a movement.

If I look through a much wider lens, beyond any single company…or really any single sector…the significant changes in the past five years have been palpable…and—even though this word is often overused—transformative. Look–I love the word “purpose.” I know I’m biased since I was honored to be part of creating and implementing “Performance with Purpose,” but that word has really found a strong-hold across the private sector. I mean, you have a guy like Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock talking about the importance of “corporate purpose” in his letter to CEOs…I think they have close to eight trillion dollars in managed assets—that’s a huge “stick” and also a huge “carrot.” People take notice in a big way. It is changing the way companies approach their role in society. I think that 2020, and several years to come, will continue to see a focus on “purpose,” with companies navigating precisely what it means to them…and how to authentically activate it in a way that makes sense to their many stakeholders.

Hopefully, at least for the next decade, that “purpose” journey will include companies more materially recognizing and going after their part in the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals…the SDGs are here to stay, at LEAST until 2030, and we all have a role in advancing them. The UN, and governments, and NGOs, and so many others are finally starting to realize that companies—businesses—aren’t apart from society…they are a part of society, and have a really important role to play. And, by the way, estimates suggest that twelve trillion dollars in new market opportunities and an incremental 380 million jobs could be realized through the SDGs. That’s a heck of a “business case.”

What are your impressions of BIER and what do you feel has been the group’s impact on private sector environmental sustainability?

It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of BIER, and I remain a strong advocate even after I left PepsiCo. I hold up BIER as a “gold standard” of how fierce competitors can actually work together on something that will help advance an entire sector.

Since the beginning, with Tod Christenson as the facilitator for BIER, and then succeeded by Nick Martin, BIER has been the standard of professional, collaborative, data-based collective action and advocacy. I mean, really…Project Managers and business schools should study how BIER convenes and conducts meetings and then translates what is discussed at those meetings into tangible, value-added outputs. It’s not just about “advancing the dialog,” or about a bunch of companies talking to themselves.

The industry guidance outputs are terrific and always respond quickly to a need in the sector. They represent the companies who are “leaders” in a particular area openly sharing learnings and helping to document them so that those companies who are still coming up to speed can benefit, as can the sector. The impact on the sector, simply put, is allowing a diverse, complicated, spirited group of companies to gather in a “safe space,” discuss crucial issues to the sector—and even better, solutions to those issues—and then how they can push forward advocacy as “one voice.” It sounds like what they used to say—apple pie and motherhood—in other words, how can anyone be against that “one voice” idea? BIER makes it more than an idea…they make it real and have since the start. Very powerful.

What is one specific area (e.g., topic, work product, etc.) where BIER got your attention and why?

That’s easy…no question…it’s the Benchmarking reports. The ones I remember so specifically are the water use efficiency reports. I’ll never forget, a couple of years before BIER was formed, as corporate water use was really beginning to hit the radar of policymakers, the American Beverage Association (ABA) was given a chance to address the US Congress back in 2008. They called around to the various beverage companies, and asked for any benchmarking data for water use and water use efficiency that they could use in their advocacy on behalf of the industry…to CONGRESS, for Pete’s sake. A pretty big deal. I think at the time the ABA thought this was going to be a “no brainer.” What they found, though, was that except for a few non-specific and really dated figures of water use ratio that were found in the literature somewhere, there were ZERO benchmarking data available. ZERO. Shame on us as an industry, right? Such data were unusual for most any industry at the time, maybe for energy but not water efficiency.

You can imagine that BIER came along at a perfect time, and water benchmarking among member companies was the first major workstream. Talk about powerful! Here’s the clincher…a couple of years after BIER was formed, we had at least one Water Benchmarking Report under our belts, and there was again an opportunity to provide information to Washington on water use efficiency in the beverage sector. The Benchmarking Report was GOLD!!! In about a five-year period, we literally went from not having anything to say as “one voice,” to having a pretty robust benchmarking report—that has only improved with age. (Note: the latest BIER Benchmarking Study evaluated the performance of nearly 1,600 beverage manufacturing facilities distributed across 6 continents and represented 19 different companies).

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

Let me share one of PepsiCo’s accomplishments since I was the person, along with a coworker, Claire Lyons—now with Matt Damon and Gary White’s—who co-created the community water strategy and the portfolio of water partners that have had tremendous impact. Remember I said how important corporate purpose is? It’s unconscionable that as we are here talking, over two billion people don’t have access to consistently safe water. If a company can help with that, why wouldn’t we?

Claire and I realized—with the full support of PepsiCo’s CEO and other leaders–that investing in getting people access to safe water wasn’t about charity…it was investing in the development of future consumers, and economic growth, and female equality, education, and so much more. We formed a portfolio of core partners—Safe Water Network, the Columbia Water Center of the Earth Institute,, and the China Women’s Development Foundation—all focused on innovative and complementary ways to provide people access to safe water. More partners have since joined, and as of last year, PepsiCo reported that it has helped more than 22 million people in underserved communities around the world gain access to safe water since 2006.

Who wouldn’t be proud of that?

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?

Wow…that’s a tough question. So many possibilities. OK, rather than a “pie-in-the-sky” kind of answer, here’s one that is not very exotic, but pretty grounded in reality. The superpower would be to magically remove fragmentation and inefficiency across the world, and allow organizations to focus on real solutions to intractable challenges. One specific example, again, safe water. I focus on that because it’s foundational to so many other things. There was a report from Dalberg recently that said that about a billion people around the world can be reached by small water enterprises, or SWEs—essentially locally-owned water businesses. Safe Water Network, the not-for-profit I’m with, has been optimizing a model for these SWEs for over a decade. The sector is so fragmented, though, that it has made replication toward scale a real challenge. Other organizations have their own “spin” on things, or want to preserve their own brand, or are forced to compete for the same funding pool. If all of that went away with my superpower, we would all be able to collectively focus on fighting the scourge of unsafe water. Then, we’d end up with billions of healthy new consumers, better economies, more equitable communities, and a lot more…now that’s a superpower.

Given the broad range of individuals, companies, and organizations that you have or do work with, your expertise lends itself to insights and action steps small, mid-size, and large organizations can take to bridge the gap with sustainability. That is assuming, they know what sustainability is. What can you share on that?

I feel really strongly about this. It’s very easy to kind of talk to yourself if you know what I mean. So in other words, you’re so embroiled in a particular world, which is kind of the enlightened world of purpose and sustainable development that is CSR and social good.

It’s very easy to get caught up in that and realize that, or not realize, that there’s another whole segment of the world and a society that hasn’t quite caught on yet. And for a while I was very naively thinking, oh, my gosh, everybody gets it and everybody is caught up. I get contacted by many of these companies asking things like, “Can you help us start on our sustainability journey?”

And I’m just amazed that they would even use that phrase “start.” You know, as opposed to, “Can you help us refresh or can you help us rethink or can you help us take it to the next level?” They are still talking about beginning a sustainability journey. And it’s remarkable to me. But I mean, the good news is they’re at least reaching out. So they realize that they need something. And I would say when it comes to tangible actions, the easiest way to start and what I always describe as the hook is financial savings. Because the reality is, companies are still for-profit entities. And for the foreseeable future, they will continue to be. Sure, they may incorporate social goods through benefit corporations or social enterprises more into their articles of incorporation, but they’re still in it to make money. Because obviously if they don’t, they’re going to go away and then they won’t be able to contribute any social good. So I think the first thing particularly to engage chief financial officers or the people that manage the books is resource savings. The low hanging fruit for water conservation, energy efficiency, and waste reduction is amazing…and can save a ton of money!

The good news is companies that are just starting out on their journey probably have a heck of a lot of low hanging fruit. So I don’t even talk to them about advocacy and about taking stands. Let’s get a few early wins under their belt by saving money through resource improvement. Then—you have people’s attention—and can broaden the conversation and say, you know what? That’s just the beginning.

After the low hanging fruit has kind of been captured, generally there is more effort required to continue making sustainable gains. What would you recommend in terms of easing any resistance to continuing the sustainability journey or bridging that gap to the next plateau?

I don’t view any of these as sequential. So there’s obviously overlap to these various pathways.

While doing conservation, you’re starting to change the culture too in terms of measuring performance. Managing what you measure. At the same time, you start to broaden the conversation by bringing in different drivers out there that are really important. For instance, if you’re a consumer products company, you bring in the voices of millennials and the voices of aspirationals…and the expectations of government influencers, and the investment community, and and and and!

There are so many different ways that you can get people’s interest to kind of start the conversation. It’s good that you’re starting with resource conservation and it’s great that you’re saving money, but let’s broaden the definition of business value. And this is something that I get on a soapbox about, particularly when I talk to business school audiences because even some ivy-league business schools are still teaching kind of traditional ways. And maybe they’ll have a lecture or half of a course on an SDG. Or, they’ll have a course on systems thinking that supposedly brings all of this stuff to the fore. But the reality is, when you have conversations with these business students, they’re still very, very traditional. And what I’m trying to do is say, yeah, there’s this traditional way that you measure value, which is profit or profitability, but there’s also license to operate or license to grow or license to thrive. There is stakeholder input. There’s customer loyalty. There is influencer loyalty and advocacy. And yet it’s the kind of value you almost can never easily articulate or quantify. And that’s what I try to do. I expose these smaller companies to that broader definition of value as opposed to just profit.

Your last point reaffirms a response that you gave earlier along the lines that business is not apart from the community, but it is part of the community. Building on that, is there a BIER work product that relates to supporting the community while also addressing science and measurement?

A particular BIER work product that comes to mind is the drought management guidebook that they put together because that was in the midst of when I say the recognition and the awareness of water scarcity within the US was really coming to the fore (e.g., Atlanta and Southern California droughts). And for years you would never hear that in the U.S. You know, even if you were in water-scarce areas, somehow that was sort of overlooked by many. It was always thought that you had this abundance of water and it would be there for hundreds of years–somehow. And then when this started to happen, and plants were actually starting to be either closed or restricted in terms of their water use, the sector, thanks to BIER took notice and said we need to really do something. It kind of told people that this is a community effort because you are one among many shared users of a resource within a community.

BIER Publications referenced in this interview:
Beverage Industry Benchmarking
BIER’s True Cost of Water Toolkit 
How Future Scenario Planning Can Guide Your Sustainability Strategy in the Face of Business Uncertainty

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.


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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