Conservation Trailblazers: Meet Bea Perez, Coca-Cola’s Chief Sustainability Officer
By Trust for Public Land
Published October 14, 2014

Conservation Trailblazers: Meet Bea Perez, Coca-Cola’s Chief Sustainability Officer

This weekend, we’ll honor Bea Perez, Chief Sustainability Officer for the Coca-Cola company, with our 2014 “Conservation Trailblazer” award, at a Trust for Public Land celebration in Georgia. In recent years, Perez has guided Coca-Cola to become an industry leader in promoting sustainable business practices and supporting healthy initiatives worldwide. In Georgia, Coca-Cola has supported wellness programs such as Georgia SHAPE and Walk Georgia, and has funded restoration and conservation projects along the length of the Chattahoochee River.

 

In the Q&A below, Bea discusses Coca-Cola’s commitment to greening it’s hometown of Atlanta, as well as its goal to become water neutral by 2020.

 

How does Coca-Cola define sustainability? 

You know, I think “sustainability” is one of the most overused buzzwords. “Sustain” means to stand still. Who wants to sustain? No one wants to just sustain. We want to create value. So at Coca-Cola, we have redefined the term by asking, “how do we create value for people, communities, and the planet? How are we always adding back and giving more than we take?” That’s our definition. We want to leave this place and this world better than we found it.

What drew you to this effort, and why do you think it’s so important?

Our population is on track to grow to nine billion by 2050, and we’re already putting significant pressure on the vital resources we need as human beings: fresh air, clean water, and food. Nearly half of the world’s forests are gone. Forty-one percent of people lack access to potable water. So for me it is about future generations. It’s about my children. It’s about other people’s children. It’s about humanity existing in a way that complements the planet’s resources, versus depleting them. For me, it’s about figuring out how to use the power of the Coca-Cola brand to scale the good that we can do.

How does The Trust for Public Land’s mission, to conserve land for people, relate to Coca-Cola’s sustainability mission?

We love that The Trust for Public Land puts people at the heart of the mission—that’s what we do as well. We share a common goal: to enhance wellbeing and quality of life for people. 

The Trust for Public Land protects places where people can get outside and be more active. I think about the work you’ve done on the Atlanta BeltLine—more than one million people have walked, biked, ran, or skated there in the last year alone! The BeltLine has changed how that community lives, breathes, and interacts. My children and I love to ride our bikes there—we love the feeling of being a part of something special and real—and without The Trust for Public Land, it wouldn’t exist. And of course, Coca-Cola was also a part of helping to build the Atlanta BeltLine, and we’re proud to have partnered in that.

Can you tell me about Coca-Cola’s support of Trust for Public Land work to protect the Chattahoochee River? 

Atlanta is our home and the Chattahoochee is near and dear to our hearts. It also supplies 70 percent of Metro Atlanta’s water. 

Several years ago, we experienced a severe drought in Georgia. The state’s Environmental Protection Division stated that Atlanta was about to run out of water. Water is a top priority of Coca-Cola’s sustainability program. We have always been involved with river protection, but when that particular crisis came to bear in our backyard, The Trust for Public Land, Coca-Cola, and many other great partners all stood together and said, “We have to do something about this.” 

We helped put rain barrel programs together and spread the word about water conservation through education and outreach. Today, the city uses 450 million gallons per day from the Chattahoochee—imagine how much we could save if we convinced people to use a little bit less. 

Coca-Cola’s goal is to be water-neutral by 2020. We want to give back all of the water we use to produce our beverages, particularly through water efficiency programs. We’re 20 percent more water efficient today than we were in 2004, and we want to keep getting better. 

That has to feel good.

Yes. I’ll tell you this—it starts with our CEO, Muhtar Kent. He sets the vision and the mission. He put sustainability into the company’s performance metrics, with scorecards to measure how our business is doing. Sustainability is treated as seriously as selling a case of Coca-Cola. In fact, we want to make sure that when we’re selling those cases, the communities we’re selling to are healthy and thriving.

In addition to water, Coca-Cola’s sustainability program also focuses on well-being. Tell me more about that.

At least 25 percent of our global beverage portfolio has low or no calories. We’re one of the few in our industry that can say that. But at the same time, we also want to encourage people to get out and get active. It can certainly seem more fun to consume calories than to burn them, so we’ve pledged to help make burning them just as fun.

That’s why we support efforts to provide access to playgrounds and other places where people can get out and have fun, ride their bikes, go jogging with their families, and connect with their communities.

And that’s why we’re proud to support The Trust for Public Land. I believe your organization is going to leave a long lasting legacy for many generations to come. I’m personally honored to be recognized by such an amazing, distinguished group of individuals. I’m inspired every single day because I get to be a part of making a difference in people’s lives, and I also get to work with others who are making a difference in people’s lives.

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