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Pepsi Chief: “We Must Show that Corporations Can Be a Force for Good Society”

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the emerging presence of eco-officers in the executive suite, or the, Chief Sustainability Officers and the fact that titles notwithstanding, regulation and stakeholders will have to support a knowledge-based transition for the triple bottom line to be reflected in long term business strategies. Recently, Coca-Cola’s CEO Muhtar Kent added ammunition to my claim in an interview with Forbes.com, where he discusses his company’s sustainability initiatives.

Quite entertainingly, he calls himself the company’s chief sustainability officer, adding, “I have not appointed another one and never will. That's me.” His logic, however inspiring, is in essence, hollow. His logic gives credence to the top-down approach: “It starts at the top, and it is driven and permeates through the entire organization from the top.” However, without the technical know-how, the differentiation skills and the ability to permeate through the many, many levels of sustainability in a business, this title for him holds the danger of losing itself into intangibility. It declares the importance of the message but fails to deliver it to every constituent and stakeholder.

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In a broader interview on capitalism today with BBC, PepsiCo Chief Indra Nooyi, refreshingly, emphasized that big businesses must do more to clear the stereotype of greenwashing in the name of sustainability. In a short video of the interview posted on BBC’s website, Ms. Nooyi—one of only 15 women CEOs among the Fortune 500 and voted Fortune’s No. 1 Most Powerful Woman in business since 2006—said the emphasis needed to shift from just the shareholder to the stakeholder. “We can’t separate Wall Street reform from Main Street because they are private corporations too … The debate right now is how do you change capitalism in total so that the emphasis is not just on the shareholder but on the stakeholder. The emphasis is not just on what happens within the company, but what happens sustainably, long term taking all of society into consideration,” she said referring to the triple bottom line of corporate social responsibility.

Ms. Nooyi took the helm at PepsiCo in 2006, adding the role of Chairperson in 2007, just before the great recession enveloped us. In the last three years, the consumer products giant has introduced several sustainability initiatives domestically and globally including their Global Water Initiative and most recently, their Pepsi Refresh Project. This last initiative is particularly interesting since it attempts to use consumer engagement to decide what project gets the big bucks from Pepsi. Currently, there are 729 ideas up for voting, all submitted by the public and include small scale endeavors to global proposals. This initiative burrows deep into the ideology behind a socially responsible corporation.

Her emphasis on recognizing the importance of permeating sustainability through the organization as well as owning up to their role in spreading the message is well put.

Owning up to the mistake is the first step and her take on changing the image of the private sector is right on the money. “As a private industry, we all have to make our way back and say that corporations can be a force for good in society,” she says touting the very disciple underlining corporate social responsibility: corporations have a duty to win back the public’s trust and the only way they can do this (Attention: Wall Street) is by recognizing all the stakeholders and instilling CSR in their long-term strategy.

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Aman Singh is an Editor with Vault and works with Fortune 500 companies on reporting their diversity recruitment strategies and initiatives.

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