In Conversation with Coca-Cola’s Joe Franses

From recycling commitments to revamped water strategies, Coca Cola Enterprises (CCE) is putting sustainability firmly in the spotlight. Edie talks with director of corporate responsibility and sustainability, Joe Franses, to find out more about the group's various green initiatives.

What area will you be focusing on next in terms of sustainability?

Three years ago, CCE launched an ambitious sustainability plan which set out our headline targets and commitments across a wide range of corporate responsibility & sustainability (CRS) issues. However the sustainability debate continues to evolve and we are currently working to adapt our plan, keep our commitments up-to-date and ensure they are in line with stakeholder expectations.  

We have built a comprehensive understanding of our value chain and remain focused on our carbon reduction initiatives and our sustainable packaging and recycling targets – two of our main focus areas. At the same time, we are looking to enhance commitments outside of our environmental focus areas – particularly in terms of health & wellness.

What are the major changes you see happening in your industry?

Like many other sectors, we are seeing increased expectations around transparency; to be more transparent about everything we do, our products, our ingredients, our supply chain, our sourcing. This is something we try to address constantly. Our newly launched interactive CRS Report contains more data than ever before – and we are now able to share performance data across a wide range of sustainability indicators.

Over the past few years, we’ve also seen an increased focus on health and wellbeing. Obesity is a complex health challenge and we take the wellbeing of our consumers and the communities in which we operate seriously. Being more physically active is one of the most important things people can do for their health and happiness and in 2013 we reached over 900,000 people through a range of active living programs across our territories.

What are the challenges for someone in your position?

It is always a challenge to keep track of a constantly evolving agenda. Since we launched our sustainability plan, we’ve seen many new phrases and concepts (water/energy/food nexus, circular economy, net positive) take centre stage. The challenge for sustainability professionals is to make sure that you have a point of view and are able to respond accordingly. The best way to do this is always to build relationships and work in partnership with others. We’ve recently joined Forum for the Future’s Net Positive Group and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 – both of which have been important in helping us to develop our understanding.

We are also working hard to ensure that our sustainability commitments are fully understood and embedded across our whole business. We have an internal CRS Advisory Council which helps to demonstrate the business benefits of our sustainability agenda to a wider internal audience.

What motivates you?

I am a firm believer that business has the power to be a force for good. Globally, we are facing some major societal challenges – both environmental and social – which are bigger that any one organisation or sector alone. The business community can make a significant contribution to tackling societal challenges like climate change, water scarcity or obesity, but must work together with government and civil society in order to do so.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

No two days are ever the same. There are always new opportunities and challenges. Last week, I attended a workshop to shortlist the top-25 ideas in our recycling challenge partnership with OpenIDEO. On the same day, I attended a meeting of our Energy & Climate Change steering group and joined a call about our second Sustainability Innovation Summit, which we will hold in London later this year.  I also enjoy working with a diverse range of people, from our Executive Leadership Team to the volunteers from our manufacturing site in Sidcup, who I joined last month to help restore the River Cray, as part of our water partnership with WWF-UK.

What green innovation do you think can revolutionise the economy?

Renewable energy is going to play an increasingly important role in the future. It has the potential to revolutionise the way our economy is powered, but in much of North West Europe we still need to see a step change in the amount of energy that is generated from wind, solar and other renewable sources.

Increased use of bio-plastics also has huge potential to decrease our reliance of non-renewable resources. Last year, a third of CCE’s plastic PET bottles utilised PlantBottle technology. This means that in addition to having 25% recycled PET, they also had up to 22.5% of plastic made from renewable plant-based materials. PlantBottle technology has received many accolades and is now used in over 30 countries across the world – including by companies outside of the Coca-Cola System, including Ford and Heinz.

What’s the big focus over the next 12 months for the environment?

The focus will undoubtedly be on the next phase of international climate change talks, which will take place in Paris in late 2015. Continued European leadership on climate & energy will be critical as the world comes together to seek to agree an ambitious global climate change framework post-2020. We remain optimistic that a global deal can be reached and as an active member of the EU Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change we’ve been supportive of the European Commission’s proposals for a reduction in GHG emissions by 40% (below the 1990 level), as part of the recent 2030 Climate & Energy White Paper.

What tips or advice would you give to newly appointed sustainability professionals?

You can’t do anything until you’ve built a comprehensive understanding of your business value chain and the impacts associated with your core business, brands and products. We’ve used lifecycle analysis and full value chain impact analysis to inform our approach and help us to identify the key things that we need to focus on.

What’s the worst aspect of your job?

There aren’t enough hours in my day. There is always a lot to tackle and many great things to achieve, so it’s about trying to balance it all to create a successful outcome.  

What period of time would you visit if you had access to a time machine?

My daughter was asked the same question recently as part of her Year 4 homework. She chose to go back to the Victorian times, so if she goes then I’m going too. It would certainly be interesting to witness the later stages of the industrial revolution and the introduction of steam power.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Without a doubt it would be overseeing the launch of CCE’s Sustainability Plan, ‘Deliver for today, inspire for tomorrow’. It was a huge task, requiring considerable internal alignment and a full stakeholder consultation process. We worked hard to define our own sustainability vision, agree the areas where could make the most significant contribution and to ensure that the ambitious targets we set were both credible and feasible.

We’ve already made strong progress against many of our targets and commitments, but we still have a long way to go. At the same time expectations continue to evolve, so even though the Sustainability Plan is only three years old, we are already in the process of reviewing and updating it.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

To be patient. Rome was not built in a day and it is always important to work hard at building a broad consensus around you so that you can secure buy-in what you are trying to achieve.

Worst advice?

To move forward with an idea or a project without putting in place the proper mechanisms to measure success.

What’s your top tip for employee engagement?

We’ve found that it has been really important to retain a clear, consistent and simple message when talking internally about sustainability. It’s also important to ensure that employees are able to understand a little about the sustainability priorities of the company they are working for, and how they fit in. It’s not always an easy thing to do and having a broad range of initiatives which people can get involved in and feel passionate about always helps. Last year, CCE invested over $9.1m in community projects and partnerships and the success of many of these projects – like our Real Business Challenge Programme in Great Britain – depend on employees to volunteer their time and get involved.

What state do you see the planet in in 30 years?

I am an optimist at heart. I strongly believe that there is an opportunity for mankind to transform the world into a better place, and it is about using the earth’s resources in an efficient and sustainable way. Business and Government play a key role and we are at a critical turning point. We need to act soon.

What do you say to the climate change sceptics?

The science behind climate change is unequivocal. Climate change is one of the greatest threats to our planet. It’s happening, it’s happening now and it is caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Even if we accept a small amount of uncertainty, we still need to act. We can’t cling to uncertainty and it’s critical that we take a proactive approach to protect our planet and our future generations.

What’s been your biggest win (environmentally)?

When we launched our Sustainability Plan in 2011, we set some ambitious and stretch targets – including a commitment to reduce the absolute carbon footprint of our core business operations by 15% by 2020, from a 2007 baseline. In 2013, we met this target seven years early with an actual reduction of 23%. We’ve been able to do this as a result of significant investment in carbon-reduction initiatives, particularly on our cold drinks equipment.

We plan to continue our efforts to maintain this achievement as we grow our business and at the same time focus on our value chain commitment to reduce the carbon footprint of ‘the drink in your hand’ by a third by delivering carbon reductions throughout our value chain.

If there was one word you could remove from the English language what would it be?

I had to seek out some advice from my children for this one. My daughter said ‘hate’, and I think I’d have to agree with her. Life is too short for hatred.

Books or kindle?

Books, always – you need to be able to turn the page.

View more interviews with leading sustainability professionals in edie’s ‘In conversation’ series here.

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