MIT Sloan students in Leading Sustainable Systems help PepsiCo develop strategies for carbon footprint measuring – and for internal communication on sustainability.

PepsiCo project: holistic sustainability is about shifting pieces into alignment

What started out as a project to assess the carbon footprint of potato and orange growing turned into an exploration of how to integrate sustainable agriculture into the larger picture at a multinational food company. The work of four MIT Sloan students with PepsiCo and the Carbon Trust in a Leading Sustainable Systems (L-Lab) course also illustrates how real-world problem-solving -- a signature of MIT Sloan's Action Learning -- is helping to develop a community of sustainability professionals throughout industry.

 

Engaging the organization

The students conducted nearly 40 interviews with farmers, NGOs, and PepsiCo staff. The initial focus of the project was to give PepsiCo recommendations on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in growing potatoes for Walker’s Crisps potato chips and oranges for Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice.

Over the course of the interviews, however, it became clear that the focus of the project was really about helping PepsiCo understand who they should be working with, how they should engage with their suppliers and how to develop a centralized, holistic approach to sustainability, said Jessica Mazonson, MBA ‘10.

The interviews also revealed that although PepsiCo was exploring and piloting several sustainable agricultural initiatives, not everybody within the company knew about the work, said Mazonson. "The more people we talked to, the more we dug into it, the more we discovered there was actually a lot happening that was disconnected," she said. "People didn't know what other people were doing, which is very common in a lot of big multinationals."

The project's key recommendations were that PepsiCo increase the coordination among its sustainability initiatives and more closely align its sustainability goals with its corporate strategy and the needs of its suppliers. "The L-Lab class is really all about understanding how you create the shifts in organizations and individuals that can lead to a more sustainable future," said Mazonson.

 

Continuing the journey

In addition to learning about sustainability within organizations, the L-Lab students got to experience a high-stakes, real-world project, said Mazonson. "We all felt really invested in ensuring that we had a really solid output for Pepsi," she said.

The project had an impact beyond PepsiCo. "I ended up moving into procurement and working on sustainability within procurement," said Mazonson, who became head of strategic capabilities and procurement for SC Johnson.