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PepsiCo’s Tom Mooradian: “Why you should expose children to positive experiences in the environment” with Penny Bauder

Expose them to positive experiences in the environment — help children build a foundation of respect and affinity for nature so they’ll feel compelled to conserve, protect, and improve our interactions with it throughout their lives. Just providing a regular dose of unstructured playtime in an urban backyard or park can be much more impactful than […]

Expose them to positive experiences in the environment — help children build a foundation of respect and affinity for nature so they’ll feel compelled to conserve, protect, and improve our interactions with it throughout their lives. Just providing a regular dose of unstructured playtime in an urban backyard or park can be much more impactful than people may think.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Mooradian.Tom is Senior Manager of Environmental Sustainability for PepsiCo. Tom and holds a B.S. in Packaging from Michigan State University and has been with PepsiCo for more than 18 years. Some of his roles have included Research & Development, Project Engineering, and for the past 7 years, Environmental Sustainability, where his primary focus is on educating and encouraging individuals to take action in the course of their own jobs or lives. His past projects, including leading Naked Juice’s conversion into 100% recycled plastic bottles, helped him build a strong foundation of technical knowledge that assists him in his current role. Today he leads various consumer-oriented programs under the PepsiCo Recycling banner, and proudly injects his personal passion for the environment into everything he does.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Igrew up on the outskirts of a beautiful mid-sized midwest college city with access to fields, woods, ponds, and a creek where I was able to explore, play, learn and grow pretty freely right from my backyard. I also developed a strong sense of community by walking or riding my bike to go to church, visiting the one “local” store, and playing with friends in the common area within the small “village” nearby. As a schoolkid, I took a lengthy bus ride into town to attend public school where I was able to learn amongst a group of students from very different backgrounds and gain an appreciation for diversity of cultures, perspectives, etc. and both arts and sciences. While my at-home experience was semi-rural, my at-school experience was semi-urban. I feel that mix of experiences helped me feel connected to nature through the artful wonder of it while also equipping me to take a very practical approach to how I interact with it. When I went to college, I obtained a B.S. in Packaging from Michigan State University. Packaging is a unique field that involves some very technical and scientific aspects, and also requires good business sense and creativity to design packages that function in innovative ways and communicate effectively with consumers. That ability to balance my creative side with my analytical side has always been important to me and also affects how I engage in environmental issues.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

When I first stepped foot inside of a manufacturing plant for a brief tour as a youngster, I was blown away by the vast scale of the resources being utilized. The amount of energy, water, and packaging materials required to get products to market was something that had never previously crossed my mind. Even a relatively minor error could turn into a shocking amount of wasted resources to my incredulous eyes. Since then, I’ve always taken a closer look at items on store shelves and thought about what it might take to get them there — and how it might have affected the environment.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

Growing up in a small community where people knew, trusted, and cared for each other is like a microcosm of how I see the broader natural environment, I view everything as one big community of living things exchanging resources with one another, and my hope is that they do so in a healthy, productive way in which they support each other symbiotically. We as humans are just one piece, but we influence the whole in a major way. I also believe that simply taking time to observe things from different perspectives might help a young person fully understand opportunities to improve and ways to communicate those opportunities effectively as a leader. While working at my first manufacturing plant I felt a spark, and I didn’t let it fade away — I began wondering if there were better ways to do things. I followed up, learned more and eventually felt prepared to implement changes. An important part of implementing change is putting myself back in the shoes I wore when I first experienced something or felt like a certain way of doing things was the only way. That perspective helps me to communicate more effectively with others who I need to bring along.

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?

At PepsiCo, we have long believed in the notion that corporations can do good for our planet and the communities in which we operate while also delivering strong financial value for shareholders. “Winning with Purpose”, our new framework for accelerated, sustainable growth, reflects this ambition to win in the marketplace while embedding purpose into all aspects of our business.

One of the first ways we pursued that goal was by focusing on resource conservation within our manufacturing and distribution processes. For over a decade now we have delivered improvements in the amount of water and energy (i.e. greenhouse gases) used to make and deliver our products. We’ve delivered some impressive results: We’re improving water-use efficiency and aiming to replenish 100% of the water we use in manufacturing in high water-risk areas by 2025. I’ve worked with a brilliant team of engineers and operations leaders on those types of internally-focused resource conservation projects and I’m really proud of the results the team continues to deliver each year. Those projects provide an obvious return on investment which is easily measurable — as they reduce utility bills — so that’s why we started there and continue to find new opportunities as innovative technologies and best practices come to fruition.

As of late, the vast majority of my time has been spent on the sustainability of our packaging and trying to ensure it has a sustainable life cycle. I get to work with brilliant individuals in our R&D, supply chain, strategy, and sales teams who are collaborating on all kinds of exciting projects to enable our vision: that our packaging need never become waste.

By that, we mean we’re working on creative ways to a) reduce the amount of packaging materials we put on the market; b) reinvent the ways we deliver our products to consumers, including new materials and formats that have better impacts on the environment and c) recycle.

Recycling is the area where I spend most of my time, as I’m hopeful that we can eventually establish what we call a circular economy for our packaging. In essence, that means our primary packaging will be able to be refilled or recycled, that the infrastructure will be in place to facilitate it, and that the process will be practical, convenient, and efficient for each touch within the supply chain — from producer to retailer to consumer to processors and back to producer.

In pursuit of that vision, I work directly on programs associated with a platform that we call PepsiCo Recycling. PepsiCo Recycling was developed to help bolster recycling on a national level by enabling and inspire our consumers to recycle our packaging materials consistently. We know we cannot do it alone so PepsiCo collaborates with NGO’s, peer companies, suppliers, retail partners, municipalities, public officials, recycling companies, and more to bring real workable solutions to the marketplace and provide our expertise and influence to help make the circular economy a reality in the future.

Many of the specific programs I oversee through the PepsiCo Recycling platform are designed to reach a broad consumer demographic, but with particular emphasis on youth to help instill sustainable habits from an early age. Some of our programs include:

Recycle Rally — Education and creating a cultural norm are big keys to long-term behavior change. Through Recycle Rally, we have involved educators at over 6,000 K-12 schools to teach students about the importance of recycling and equip them with resources and opportunities to become recycling leaders at school and beyond — into their homes and communities. The resources also provide fun, new ways to think about recycling and to spread the word to others. Many schools enjoy the rewards and contest prizes that we offer as well through the extremely popular and free program.

○ PepsiCo Recycling recently partnered with acclaimed author Jeff Kinney to launch Be Awesome! Recycle!, a back-to-school campaign featuring ‘Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid’ protagonist Rowley Jefferson in a one-of-a-kind cartoon illustrating the importance of recycling. The aim is to help children feel a personal connection to recycling through a character they can relate to. Ultimately we hope it helps position recycling as a desirable activity and that students will begin to understand that recycling every bottle, every can, every time can make a big impact.

Zero Impact Fund — We know college campuses are perfect places to make an impact but they’re all at different points along their journey to become greener. So to provide flexibility and enable our efforts to make the greatest impact, we reviewed over 60 Zero Impact Fund proposals from various colleges and universities during the 2018–2019 school year and awarded 27 of them with up to $10,000 cash apiece to be used toward initiating or expanding campus sustainability programs. We’re kicking the 2019–2020 school year edition off this fall and can’t wait to review and judge the innovative ideas that will flow in this year.

PepsiCo Recycling Roadster — We take our mission to festivals, fairs, sporting venues, college campuses and other events across the country in the PepsiCo Recycling Roadster, a solar-paneled van filled with fun games and prizes to get consumers excited about recycling.

Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks/things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

Create a ‘circular economy’ in your own life:

When you’re done with consumer goods, think before you get rid of each item: where can it best be utilized next?

Consider exchanging, loaning, donating, or earning some extra cash by selling your used items via one of many online venues and retail stores that facilitate such swaps.

Your food scraps might not seem like they have much value in your life but the microorganisms and beneficial critters in the soil will be squirming with joy if you share with them by composting. Composting is easy and enables you to turn your old food into new by creating an amazing growing medium for fresh fruits and veggies.

For recyclables, raise your personal recycling rate to 100%! If you don’t see a place to recycle, ask about it and be a change agent so others can recycle in the future too!

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: 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.

Expose them to positive experiences in the environment — help children build a foundation of respect and affinity for nature so they’ll feel compelled to conserve, protect, and improve our interactions with it throughout their lives. Just providing a regular dose of unstructured playtime in an urban backyard or park can be much more impactful than people may think.

○ For example,as a toddler, I fell in love with bees while quietly watching them visit dandelions and clover in the backyard. Much later in my life, I began to learn about all of the benefits they provide to the ecosystem and how vital they are to our food system and I was much more receptive to learning about that because of my early experience with them. I eventually became a hobbyist beekeeper and now I routinely educate others about how wonderful bees are and how important it is to protect them.

Let them lead — Resist the temptation to simply tell children what to do and why it matters. Instead, let them discover it on their own by setting up situations that enable them to explore, test, and come to those conclusions on their own. Flip the conventional roles and be the one who asks most of the questions and let the child provide most of the answers. Be sure to provide the time, space, and tools for children to conduct their own observations and experiments and be available to help them to process the information.

○ For example, if a child asks me why a tree branch fell to the ground, I don’t just say “because the wind blew it down” or “because the tree was dead”. Instead, I suggest they look at the tree and try to determine if it looks healthy and if there are any other signs on or around the tree that might help explain what happened. Then we can have fun acting as sleuths together trying to determine the root cause. Do we see any signs of invasive bugs dining on it? Any signs of disease or fungus overtaking it? Perhaps heavy snow weighed more than it could bear?

Allow them to enjoy simple “wins” — It’s great to pursue big aspirations like “saving the oceans”, but don’t neglect the simpler, localized goals either. A child who sees his/her efforts translate into a success story before his/her very eyes is much more likely to sign up for the next endeavor than someone whose first effort entails toiling in frustration or realizing that he/she cannot solve the problem the way he/she had envisioned.

○ Example: A simple action that hundreds of kids have experienced through our Recycle Rally program is the act of designing or decorating a recycling bin or poster with their own hands. When they get to see other students recycling more frequently as a result of their efforts, it keeps them engaged and excited to take on the next challenge.

Set a good (and consistent) example — Most kids have pretty good instincts when it comes to doing good for the people, animals, and environment around them. Reinforce those positive instincts by considering the impact of your own actions and vocalizing why you’re making certain decisions.

○ For example, if you are dining at a fast food restaurant, the cultural norm might be to grab a few extra napkins and packets of condiments than you really need.Don’t just resist the temptation to follow the crowd, but be sure to talk about the decision in front of your children: ask “how many do you think we really need? Should we tell the server we can skip the straw and lid too?” When finished eating, ask, “are any of these items recyclable or compostable?” or “Where’s the recycling bin?” The impact you make by having such a conversation will extend well beyond the amount of waste you are able to avoid. Then later on after you’ve established this foundation and it’s time to pick a place to eat, start a conversation about which places offer menu options, serving materials, or business practices that are more sustainable and more worthwhile to support. Meaningful dialog and behavior modeling will help impressionable young people begin thinking that way throughout their entire lives, and eventually make bigger more impactful decisions in the same way if you do this consistently. Your subtle actions speak loudly to young people.

Personalize the ‘Why’ — Kids are more likely to keep up with environmentally responsible behavior as they grow up if they understand why it’s important. Rather than generalizing statements like “do this to help the planet”, find ways to associate their actions with something they care deeply about.

○ For example, If they love scarfing down seafood, talk to them about keeping our waterways clean so they can continue to enjoy their favorite foods. If they enjoy watching or listening to birds, talk to them about migratory patterns and how changes in climate might affect them. If they like music, find some songs (or create lyrics of your own) that touch on some of the issues that you want them to pay attention to.

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?

As consumers become more conscious about their environmental impact, businesses have a tremendous opportunity to develop a competitive advantage by providing those consumers with more sustainable choices. Increased consumer engagement can drive opportunities for exciting and profitable innovation that meets the consumer’s new needs. It can mean expanding or refreshing a portfolio of product and packaging offerings to ensure consumers can choose products that make the best mark on the issues that matter most to them. For example, some environmental-minded consumers might purchase a particular type of packaging because they care most about reducing greenhouse gases / climate change, while others might select products that are built with the goal of protecting marine life. While we all wish there were perfect solutions that address each concern simultaneously, the most realistic opportunity is to provide consumers with choices and empower them to decide on which offerings will stay in the market — when they vote with their dollars.

At PepsiCo Recycling, we’re going a step further and engaging with consumers after the point of purchase to make sure we have the best chance to reduce waste and improve the sustainability of our packaging by encouraging and inspiring consumers to help us ensure their empties end up in the recycling stream. We’re going beyond consumers too, and partnering with those who collect and process the material after it has been used to ensure it has the best chance of being fully utilized to the greatest extent.

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 can’t point to a single individual. My parents shaped who I am and gave me all the discipline, education, experiences and support that I needed to succeed. Various teachers / professors, and multiple mentors helped to educate me and foster my growth and confidence that also helped shape who I am today. My wife also deserves a ton of credit for inspiring me, helping me to get the most out of myself, and supporting me through all of my unique endeavors.

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. 🙂

Let’s strive to create a truly circular economy in which no resources go to waste.”Single-use” and disposability would go by the wayside. Everything we consume would have value and would actually be perceived as such, and everyone would have easy, convenient access to reuse, recycle, or renew things whenever they were finished with them. If this were to come to reality, I can envision a world where:

○ Everyone could feel more secure, as resources would be less scarce and more broadly available locally

○ Habitats would be in better shape as disruptive / destructive processes to capture new raw materials would be minimized and consumed materials would be much less likely to end up as litter or in wildlife habitats

○ Landfills would be few and far between

○ Fewer greenhouse gases would be emitted as reusing and recycling typically use less energy and renewable energy would become the norm

○ Tons of great jobs would be created to support this new economy

○ Communities would be stronger because they’d be more self-sufficient, resilient and connected with one another

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

I can’t really put my finger on a particular quote that has played that role in my life, but the book title and concept “Cradle to Cradle” (Braungart and McDonough) definitely inspired me to think in new ways.

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

Instagram: @pepsicorecycling

Twitter: @PepsiRecycling

Thank you so much for joining us!

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