What happens when an ethical coffee company merges with a major soda group? Chief Sustainability Officer Monique Oxender told us more about Keurig Dr Pepper and its new “Drink Well, Do Good” platform.
What happens when a coffee company known for its ethical sourcing merges with a major soda group? You see meaningful sustainability commitments extended across an even wider portfolio of drinks, and a much wider network of suppliers.
In the case of Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP), the company is also making progress on one of its environmental sticking points: the waste generated by individual coffee pods that keep many of us fueled throughout the day. This year, it will be converting to recyclable coffee pods across the US. It’s all part of a move towards 100 percent recyclable or compostable products; and it’s a timely commitment, given the global attention on packaging waste.
We caught up with Chief Sustainability Officer Monique Oxender, to learn more about the merging of the two companies and its new “Drink Well, Do Good” platform.
Keurig Green Mountain was fairly well known for its commitment to sustainability, while Dr Pepper was more focused on philanthropy. What was it like to merge the strategies of two well-established companies into a single vision?
Monique Oxender: Last year’s merger between Keurig Green Mountain and Dr Pepper Snapple Group provided an opportunity for us to reexamine all aspects of the business. With sustainability being one of the top priorities for our leadership team, we took a close look at our corporate responsibility agenda to identify key areas of strength and areas that needed improvement, to ensure we could make the most positive impact as the seventh largest food and beverage company in the United States.
We realized that while the two companies were different, our strengths complemented each other in ways that enabled us to be a greater force for good together. For example, Dr Pepper Snapple Group had well-established and respected community and philanthropic programs, such as Let’s Play; while Keurig Green Mountain’s integrated policies and practices for responsible sourcing and manufacturing helped make it a leader in sustainable coffee.
Throughout our first year as a new company, we never looked at sustainability in isolation. We engaged business leaders within and outside of our organization to better understand our strengths, risks and opportunities. A year later, corporate responsibility remains top of mind for all of us at KDP, and a key driver in our business actions and decisions. It truly is serving as our North Star; and our “Drink Well. Do Good” platform outlines how we’re going to get there, together. There’s involvement all the way up and engagement all the way down, whether it’s the leadership team setting strategy or our frontline employees managing day-to-day implementation. We’re all working together and are motivated by our ambition to make a positive impact with every drink.
Where do you see the biggest opportunities to make an impact?
MO: We know how serious the consequences are if we do not all work together to eliminate waste and that is a top priority at KDP, so our commitment to convert to 100 percent recyclable or compostable packaging across our entire portfolio by 2025 is critical. We are pleased to be making steady progress toward meeting that goal every day. After a successful conversion to recyclable K-Cup® pods in Canada last year, we are now rolling recyclable pods out across the United States. By the end of 2020, every K-Cup pod we manufacture will be recyclable.
We went a step further beyond just delivering recyclable K-Cup pods on the shelves. We worked with local recycling companies to make sure our newly designed K-Cup pods can be processed successfully throughout the recycling stream. We conducted more than a dozen tests at scale in municipal recycling facilities throughout North America, which proved our pods can be recovered with existing equipment — a finding further validated by the Association of Plastic Recyclers.
Our work in this space is helping to create best practices and momentum for others. Our collaboration with recyclers actually set new standards for how objects flow through MRFs, and has benefited other items like yogurt cups. We’ve joined groups like the World Wildlife Fund’s new ReSource activation hub to share what we’ve learned, and glean insights from others addressing the systemic issue of single-use plastics.
What will require the biggest change from the business as you pursue your new sustainability goals?
MO: We have demonstrated leadership in sourcing our coffee sustainably, and we are on-track toward achieving our commitment to responsibly source 100 percent of our coffee and brewers by 2020. We continue to be one of the largest global buyers of Fair Trade™ coffee and also purchase Rainforest Alliance® and UTZ certified coffee. The relationships we’ve developed with both farmers and manufacturing suppliers offer us an understanding of the challenges our supply chain communities face and insight into how to address them. We provide support through a variety of approaches — including direct supplier engagement, investments and industry coalitions. Our intent has been to provide our suppliers, their employees and their communities with the skills and tools they need to remain successful, drive sustainable business practices and positively impact local livelihoods.
We’re looking to apply that model of deep collaboration, transparency and social impact investment beyond coffee and brewers to other priority commodities and ingredients in our supply chain, such as aluminum, apples, corn and other sweeteners. It’s a big undertaking, but we’re up to the challenge.
KDP’s commitment to use 30 percent post-consumer recycled material in packaging is an interesting one, because the current supply of recycled plastic is limited. Will KDP need to get involved in increasing supply — and if so, how?
MO: With our new recycled content commitment, we have a vested interest in ensuring North America generates an abundant supply of quality recycled content. That means people need to recycle more and recyclers need to improve sortation. We can’t do it alone, so we have to partner to make this happen.
Partnerships are a big part of who we are as a company, and we will continue to collaborate across the industry as we work collectively toward a circular economy, where valuable items live long beyond their first use. I previously mentioned the work we’ve done with recycling facilities to prove that #5 plastic coffee pods can make it successfully through their stream, and are a valuable addition to the yogurt cups and butter containers they are already collecting. In addition, we’ve invested in the Closed Loop Fund to address recycling system bottlenecks; and partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to help grow the circular economy. We team up with The Recycling Partnership and Keep America Beautiful, and work directly with municipalities to educate and encourage communities to practice recycle-right behavior.
It’s going to take leadership and teamwork across the value chain to make the transition from single-use to a regenerative, circular economy; but we’re driven to play an active role in achieving that future.
As a merged company, KDP has even more scale now than before. What are the pros and cons of this scale?
MO: A benefit of our new scale is being able to provide a wider variety of beverages to our customers. From Mott’s Sensibles juices to our Fair Trade-certified Green Mountain Coffee Roasters coffee, our goal is to satisfy any consumer beverage need — anytime, anywhere. We strive to build a well-balanced portfolio, one that today already includes 300 ready-to-drink options with less than 100 calories. And we will continue to invest in R&D and innovate, so that we’re responding to our consumers’ needs and providing more drinks with less sugar. Our combined resources enable us to do this faster, and on a much larger scale.
On the flip side, this also means that we have an expanded — and more varied — supply chain. We have to be thoughtful and consider our impact at every step, from the resources we depend on to make our products to the materials we use in our packaging. We are looking across our value chain to identify where we can make more of a positive impact, tackling important issues through partnership, innovation and investment. This is just the beginning.
Keurig Dr Pepper just released its first corporate responsibility report as a combined company; click here to read it.