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“Don’t take yourself too seriously.” with Jason Blake

My wish is that every single person on this planet recognizes that they have something valuable to contribute, regardless of your race, gender, socioeconomic background, successes you’ve had or mistakes you’ve made. Your contribution matters. I’m proof of this. People invested in me, and made bets on me, that far exceeded what I thought I […]

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My wish is that every single person on this planet recognizes that they have something valuable to contribute, regardless of your race, gender, socioeconomic background, successes you’ve had or mistakes you’ve made. Your contribution matters. I’m proof of this. People invested in me, and made bets on me, that far exceeded what I thought I deserved at the time. I see people who do not get these opportunities because they self-select out. They hesitate to push beyond their comfort zones and limit their opportunities to bring their gifts to the world. Sustainability is a perfect example of this mindset. Everyone can make a difference. Everyone.

Aspart of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Blake, Chief Sustainability Officer at PepsiCo.

Jason Blake is Senior Vice President, Chief Sustainability Officer at PepsiCo Beverages North America (PBNA), where he leads the company’s efforts to help build a more sustainable future. Previously, he held senior positions in corporate strategy and business development, customer management, and sales. He holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for the opportunity. I’ve been part of the PepsiCo family for most of my career, and in that time, I have been fortunate to touch several areas of our business — from sales and customer strategy, to corporate development and now, sustainability. I think a general manager’s knowledge of the business and operations allows me to bring an informed approach and unique perspective to sustainability. My team and I are not operating as an off-shoot, but as a fully-integrated steward of the business. As companies become more mature in their sustainability journey, integration becomes increasingly important. Our sustainability effort is fully embedded, with reach across the entire enterprise.

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

I’m part of PepsiCo Beverages North America (PBNA), which includes iconic brands like Pepsi, Gatorade, Tropicana, MTN Dew and Aquafina, and our vision — as it is at PepsiCo — is to win with purpose.

For our consumers, “winning with purpose” means creating joyful moments through our delicious and nourishing products and unique brand experiences. For our customers, it means being the best possible partner — driving game-changing innovation and delivering a level of growth unmatched in our industry. For our shareholders, it means delivering returns and embracing best-in-class corporate governance. For our associates and communities, it means creating meaningful opportunities to work, gain new skills and build successful careers, and a diverse and inclusive workplace. And for our planet, “winning with purpose” means conserving nature’s precious resources and fostering a more sustainable planet for our children and grandchildren.

Given our size and scale, PepsiCo has both an opportunity and responsibility to help build a more sustainable food system. Accordingly, we are working to minimize waste and plastic, improve the recyclability of our products, minimize the water we use in manufacturing and production, improve water use efficiency in water scarce areas, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

We embrace our responsibility to help build a more sustainable future, recognizing that the success of our company and the prosperity of our communities go hand in hand. This work starts by leveraging our scale, reach and expertise across the areas where we can have the greatest impact in our sustainability agenda:

  • Water — We’re using water more efficiently, replenishing water locally, and helping to ensure water security. Our goal is to replenish 100% of the water we use in manufacturing operations in high-water-risk areas by 2025 — and ensure that replenishment takes place in the watershed where the extraction has occurred. Tree planting is one method we are prioritizing, alongside irrigation system upgrades and water quality improvement measures. Just last month, PBNA and PepsiCo Foods North America (PFNA) together provided a $1.5 million grant to the Arbor Day Foundation to support its work to replant 2 million trees in the burn scars of the Carr and Camp Fire wildfires, which devastated Northern California in late 2018. The grant will result in 458 million gallons of water being replenished annually — which will be desperately needed as wildfires continue to ravage California.
  • Climate — We are reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across every part of our value chain. This year, PepsiCo announced a shift to 100% renewable electricity in U.S. direct operations, which builds on global efforts. Climate change demands urgent and accelerated action from everyone, and we are developing a robust strategy for achieving net-zero emissions globally that is in line with the latest science.
  • Packaging — We support a circular economy and a sustainable packaging vision that includes reducing, recycling, and reinventing our packaging. Currently, 88% our packaging is recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable. Our goal is to reach 100% recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging by 2025. Last year, we joined forces with beverage industry leaders to launch the Every Bottle initiative, a breakthrough effort to reduce our industry’s plastic footprint and make significant investments to improve collection of our bottles to be made into new bottles. In October, it marked the completion of the first year, and we’re proud that as an industry — and in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and Closed Loop — we launched projects in Texas, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin that will help more than 349,000 households recycle nearly 38 million additional pounds of PET plastic that can be remade into new bottles.
  • Agriculture — We’re striving to make agriculture more intelligent, inclusive, and gentler on the earth. We continue to expand our Sustainable Farming Program (SFP), reaching more than 40,000 farmers around the world with training in sustainable practices like more efficient use of fertilizer and water, plant protection techniques, and respect for workers’ rights. Nearly 80% of our potatoes, whole corn, oats, and oranges are sustainably sourced. At our Bradenton, Florida plant where we process approximately 4 billion oranges annually, we’re proud to say we’re the №1 buyer of Florida fruit. While the exact percentage may vary by crop size, Tropicana purchases about a third of all oranges grown in the state.

Since we first committed to our sustainability journey in 2006, we’ve made valuable progress. But our work is far from done. Though much of this work centers on targets we set, it’s not just about reaching these milestones and goals. It’s about consistently resetting these ambitions when we get there and continuing our work with partners to devise innovative solutions that help move the needle. When you hear us benchmark against goals set for 2020, 2025, 2030 or whatever it may be, we view that milestone as a launching pad — or a steppingstone — to even more improvement. We strive to be better than we were, always.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

The urgent environmental challenges before us demand that we operate sustainably, as a responsible corporate citizen and a force for good. Beyond being a responsible citizen, this is about future-proofing our business.

I talked before about our mission to “win with purpose.” This means being consumer-centric and exceeding their expectations. Companies who don’t share the values of their customers — and who fail to take concrete actions to advance those goals — are quickly going to find themselves irrelevant. This is about more than being profitable, it’s about growing and succeeding along with the consumer. That’s why at PepsiCo, this work doesn’t just reside within our sustainability teams. It’s the work of our plant managers, brand leaders, and partners across the continent and the globe. We all have to be singing from the same song sheet, moving in the same direction, leaning into the same areas of opportunity. This isn’t just a job for me as the sustainability officer — it’s a job for everyone.

The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

As a parent, I really love this question.

First, listen. Listen to young people — not just to your children, but to their generationThey are not becoming activists because they’re confused or misinformed. They’ve done the homework. They’re engaged, and impassioned.

Help bring the bigger picture into focus. Our children learn about these issues in school, they hear about it online, and they discuss it with their friends. If they haven’t done the homework, or, if you think they’d benefit from more perspective, bring it to them. We can help broaden these horizons by providing resources that help them see the big picture. This might be an academic or scientific journal, a TED Talk, or even inspiring art and music from another generation.

Engage. Our kids might have the vision and resolve, but they might not have the tools and resources. Support them in their engagement on climate change. Be the catalyst that makes their activism possible.

Practice sustainability together. In many ways, it’s a lifestyle. Walk and bike together. Make small changes and stick to them. This is about leading by example and creating a ripple effect.

Follow their lead. On the flip side of setting a good example, it can be equally powerful to respond to a young person’s leadership. As a parent, this might mean doing more than complimenting and encouraging. It likely means following their advice and giving them the chance to experience that feeling of inspiring change.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. The importance of overall well-being for a long career. Fitness, stress management and cultivating interests and hobbies outside of work are all important aspects of self-care that are critical to ensuring I have the energy to perform at my highest level.
  2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s ok to be imperfect. People generally judge persistence and perseverance far more than a singular look at wins or losses.
  3. Lean into strengths and look for opportunities to apply those strengths. This is what makes us all invaluable team members.
  4. Leadership and management, while different things, are both vitally important.
  5. Sustainability is an inspiration and purpose unto itself. It’s a deeply held belief inside of PepsiCo, one that we try to share with our customers, consumers and the communities where we operate.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’d like to share the words of my mom, Linda, who taught me so many life lessons and whose wisdom guides me every day:

  1. Take risks. Be willing to take on challenges — and jump into challenging situations — that others hesitate to take on. With great, calculated risk-taking comes great reward.
  2. Build great relationships. Cultivate relationships not just because they’re beneficial to yourself, but especially because you can help others. Be selfless in these relationships.
  3. Build resilience. Taking risks, and taking on challenges, means that you will face adversity. Expect it. Embrace it. And press forward.

At the time, as a boy in Yonkers, New York, I didn’t necessarily always realize these were life lessons. Looking back, these were the values mom instilled in me when she encouraged me to run for student government in middle school, when she encouraged me to take mentoring opportunities seriously, and when she helped me through all of the setbacks and difficult times.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My wish is that every single person on this planet recognizes that they have something valuable to contribute, regardless of your race, gender, socioeconomic background, successes you’ve had or mistakes you’ve made. Your contribution matters. I’m proof of this. People invested in me, and made bets on me, that far exceeded what I thought I deserved at the time. I see people who do not get these opportunities because they self-select out. They hesitate to push beyond their comfort zones and limit their opportunities to bring their gifts to the world. Sustainability is a perfect example of this mindset. Everyone can make a difference. Everyone.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

I’m inspired by this Marianne Williamson passage, and I’m paraphrasing: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us… as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” It’s such an eloquent summary of the point I’m trying to make above. Regardless of who you are, your contribution matters.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

You can usually find me on LinkedIn, where I engage and post about our sustainability work and PBNA’s mission generally.

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