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Coca-Cola Builds Sustainability from the Watershed Up

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Our series of interviews with key sustainability management at The Coca-Cola Company offers valuable insights into the inner workings of a global brand and how its associates, entrusted with various stewardship roles, work every day to support and improve sustainability.

Other recent interviews discussed the company’s approach to water resource sustainability and how it guides sustainability through its thousand disparate facilities.

Our last interview is with Bruce Karas, vice president of environment and sustainability, Coca-Cola Refreshments:

Sustainable Plant (SP): Please describe your role at Coca-Cola.

Bruce Karas: We have a team of about 20 associates in North America (at the plant level) and a parallel organization in corporate, developing a strategy that’s aligned with Coca-Cola’s plan for water conservation, plus more. My role is to work with our business to integrate our environmental sustainability strategy into our activities. My task is to make sure that all internal components of our business have an understanding of our requirements and commitments; I also make sure that our bottling partners are in alignment with our key sustainability direction. This extends to working with the sales team to help them understand our goals and accomplishments. We provide a governance role to our North American business.

Bruce Karas

Bruce Karas, vice president of environment and sustainability, Coca-Cola Refreshments

In addition to Water Stewardship, we have distinct initiatives in the areas of Sustainable Packaging and Energy & Climate protection. The work we do in each area has connections to the others in terms of our overall environmental footprint.

SP: What are some of the greatest challenges plant personnel face in pursuing/maintaining sustainability at the plant level?

Karas: At the production level, it is important to make your sustainability initiatives “come alive” for associates. If you are operating a filler machine, or a fork lift, the connection of our business to appreciating the facility’s source water, which may be a faraway reservoir, requires us to help associates understand our impact on the water we share with the local community. So, we do a number of different things that help them connect to the bigger picture.

For example, one of our biggest concerns is the health of watersheds in our communities. At one of our facilities in Dallas, we worked with The Nature Conservancy, to help Clymer Meadow’s ecosystem recharge water. To bring the point home, the facility manager took associates on a tour of the meadow to see how the whole ecosystem works. The associates, ranging from filler operators to forklift drivers, helped remove invasive plant species and replant the native prairie grass. This helps the prairie ecosystem retain rainwater. We also work with different organizations on local waterway clean ups to both remove litter and engage our associates in the importance of bottle and can recycling.

At the facility, we work hard at saving energy and being efficient. It is important to educate associates to take these conservation lessons from work to their home. For example, we ask our facilities to examine and adjust equipment set-points to minimize energy use while maintaining production and quality. At home, we encourage associates to install and use programmable thermostats to control their HVAC systems to save energy while remaining comfortable.

SP: Closer to home, Coca-Cola has a bottling plant right off Route I-95 that proudly proclaims it is ISO 22000 certified. Can you speak to that plant’s efforts?

Karas: You are referring to our Needham facility. They, too, share the philosophy that, as a business, we share responsibility for a surrounding community’s precious resources. Consider the issue of water consumption – we use water in every product we make; water is used as an ingredient and used to sanitize our systems. Each facility has its own water efficiency target each year. Water efficiency is measured in terms of liters of water per liter of product produced. In the case of energy efficiency, we have a target that is measured in terms of total energy used in megajoules per liter of product produced.

This same approach in terms of facility targets is extended to solid waste generation, as we aspire to divert 100% of our solid waste from landfills. At Needham, they have been able to divert more than 95% of their solid waste from landfills and are closing in on 100%. Our approach is to ask the question ‘how can we take a solid waste stream and make it a useful intermediate for another operation?’ A good example is in how we use our concentrate drums. Our product comes in a 55-gal drum, and after we use the contents, we donate the drums to conservancy groups to use for home use as a rain barrel, turning a solid waste to an opportunity to educate the public on the benefit of conserving and reusing water. This is a good way to illustrate sustainability.

In greater detail, we view sustainability as a product of 3 layers:

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