Jeff Seabright, The Coca-Cola Company’s vice president of environment and water resources, explores how the beverage giant is moving to greater sustainability.
What you pay attention to can play a big role in whether you succeed. Jeff Seabright, The Coca-Cola Company's vice president of environment and water resources, says sustainability begins with the simple act of paying attention. "You can't manage what you can't measure," he says. MIT Sloan Management Review contributing editor Samuel Fromartz talked to Seabright about how Coca-Cola, with more than 90,000 employees and a footprint in more than 200 countries, is measuring all it can, from water efficiency rates to packaging material use to its carbon footprint. It’s the key way, he says, that the company is becoming more sustainable. How has sustainability evolved at Coke? It's been an evolution over decades, but the initial focus was on corporate governance around the environment, which obviously is compliance-driven. We’ve moved well beyond a focus solely on compliance, but our movement has happened over time. On meeting regulations and so forth? Yes, in the '70s with the advent of Clean Air and Clean Water Act, companies really began to pay attention to the emergence of new regulatory requirements. The opportunity then was to move beyond compliance to think about what's been called "eco-efficiency" -- doing more with less, being more efficient, cutting waste out. There's sort of a third level of this evolution -- recognizing there's a real competitive opportunity in putting together programs that add real value to the business across lots of different channels. We are a consumer goods company built on brands. So we are dependent upon our customers loving us every day and we need to be relevant to their concerns. As the public becomes more engaged and interested in how our beverages got to them — and what impact that process has -- then that's something that we need to be working on. Another thing —- we need to talk about challenges and risk to the business because of the corporate reporting requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley. And that would be environmental risk? Yes. For example, water as a resource is undergoing stress around the world and that's a challenge for a business that is fundamentally based on access to water. Not just the availability of water but the quality of it in terms of groundwater pollution, etc. It's not an insurmountable risk, but it's something that the company felt important to acknowledge.