Monday, October 15, 2012

How Coca-Cola Guides a Thousand Plants to Improve Sustainability

By Gabriele Crognale, PE October 12, 2012

We previously spoke with Joseph Rozza, Coca-Cola’s global water resource sustainability manager, about how water management permeates the company’s sustainability strategy. Here’s what we learned from Paul Bowen, Coca-Cola’s director of sustainable operations.

Bowen’s job is to look at water and energy in global operations and develop strategies incorporating the plant level. “We also need to make sure this is working individually in each of the plants,” Bowen says.

Bowen reports to Chris Reh, director of safety and environmental sustainability. Rey is a plant-level director; Bowen’s own work as director of sustainable operations revolves around water, wastewater and energy. His job functions are part of the Department of Quality, Environmental and Safety at Coca-Cola.

With sustainability drivers usually coming from the top, we asked Bowen how management envisions his role, and whether there is a bonus or other reward tied to his performance. “It’s a new position, where my role has increased and become more important as it evolved over time,” he replied. “Yes, there is a performance bonus tied to Coca-Cola’s targets and objectives. These are sustainability-driven. To get your bonus, you have to meet your performance objective.”

How are those objectives defined? “Within the plant setting, there are two objectives around water and wastewater,” Bowen says. “From our last assessment of what was required, 200 plants were in non-compliance, and of those, 150 needed new construction. Part of our solution was to construct on-site wastewater treatment. I was involved in the process to oversee and design these plants.

“Economic and social/political issues have slowed things down, and as a result, the deadline has slipped somewhat. We anticipate that by end of 2012, all our 1,000 plants globally will comply.”

This is a huge undertaking on Coca-Cola’s part and requires additional effort to track the company’s progress. Bowen’s department uses audits to validate and verify progress. The audits are ongoing and as part of their quality review, the plants in question are audited every year. If the audits find the plants to be non-compliant, Bowen hears about it.

Shifting to a wider view, we asked Bowen if he could share Coca-Cola’s corporate view of its environmental, health and safety (EH&S) responsibilities, and whether he sees a correlation to the company’s sustainability and social responsibility commitments. “We recognize that EHS is a part of sustainability. It’s not just resources, waste, energy, and people that sustain the business,” he replied, “We need to have sustainable operations to continue the business.”

Bowen’s group, Quality, Environmental and Safety, is responsible for environment, sustainability, and water reuse issues for the 1,000-plus Coca-Cola plants globally. The Coca-Cola system includes more than 300 bottling partners, and the company operates more than 75% of its facilities. “At the corporate level, we work with partners to achieve their corporate objectives. The day-to-day operations at the plant level are the responsibility of the plant people and their contractors,” Bowen says. Part of his role is to act as a consultant/facilitator to help the plant people understand their responsibilities and why they need certain pollution control equipment, such as wastewater treatment, to be compliant.

For example, “We set a water use ratio, which is the volume of water divided by volume of product – for example, 1,000 liters of water to make 500 liters of beverage. We set a global target to reduce our ratio by 20%, which is relative to 2004 historical numbers.” This was established in a bottom up conversation with their bottlers, followed by data compiled from a water risk survey and water availability assessments. He added that Coca-Cola’s bottling operations are keenly aware of water global targets, and are willing to achieve these targets.

Asked what metrics his group maintains to validate their plants’ continuing sustainability efforts, Bowen replied, “The audit results are one validation, and each plant also submits on a regular basis their water consumption and their current status, whether compliant or non-compliant. Also realize that in places where there are permit systems, their managers get them, but in countries where no such requirements and regulations exist, what we get is what we get,” he says.

Regarding Ceres and related voluntary initiatives, Bowen added, “All plants have to perform a resource vulnerability assessment, and as part of that task, need to look at the watershed and the threats to it from specific sources. We need to define actions to mitigate those risks.” Examples can be found in Coca-Cola’s recently issued Water Stewardship and Replenishment report.

“Moving forward, we have a global corporate role of doubling product volume by 2020. We can’t double the amount of water we use – that wouldn’t be sustainable – so we need to develop ratios to be able to reach volume target production for next year, using this year’s water. Now if you can do that, you can be sustainable,” Bowen says. Bottlers need to make sure they have the most efficient processes, reclaim as much water as they can, and re-use treated wastewater for things like truck washing and irrigation. “Basically, it’s looking at the whole gamut the plant can use to reuse, reduce and recycle their available water,” he says.

Finally, we asked, what does “sustainability” mean to you, to the company? “What it means to means to me is to be able to operate my business in a fashion where I am not diminishing the resources that I have so that there is opportunity for use by future generations, and that I am able to maintain a sustainable business,” Bowen replied. “This is a neat definition – it goes so far in may different directions, a broad topic – and it’s not just about environmental: you need to also have a sustainable business, and it includes your market, your customers, and most importantly, the relationships you build. All have to be sustainable.”

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