How She Leads: Coca-Cola's Beatriz Perez

How She Leads is a regular feature on GreenBiz.com that spotlights the career paths of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable business. In this edition, Maya Albanese interviews Bea Perez, who in July 2011 became the first-ever Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) of The Coca-Cola Company.

Perez has been at Coca-Cola since 1996. During her previous role as the Chief Marketing Officer of Coca-Cola North America, she incorporated sustainability initiatives into Coca-Cola's North American marketing programs Coca-Cola has made major strides in sustainable development and transparency, including its recent announcement that it plans to expand its electric vehicle delivery fleet in five cities in the U.S., which save Coke up to 60 percent in fuel costs and are about 50 percent recyclable at the end of their life.

In today's interview, Bea explains what it means to be CSO at this influential and iconic brand and how her job is informed by her passion for sustainability and long experience at the company.

Maya Albanese: Could you please start by explaining the path you've taken to acquire the role of Coca-Cola's first Chief Sustainability Officer?

Bea Perez: I have been at Coca-Cola for 16 years, in various roles in brand management and product marketing. Over the years, I have managed everything from our partnerships with media, American Idol, sports properties, entertainment, university marketing and more. I was constantly asking questions like: What do consumers want and how do we fulfill those demands and needs?

What was beyond clear is that consumers increasingly care how businesses run and grow, and how they impact the environment and the communities in which they operate. My position was created to help scale and accelerate our sustainability agenda. My experience in the business and my passion for sustainability have come together, and that's really exciting.

MA: What does it mean to be CSO, a relatively new title in the business world?

BP: My role is to set the overarching policy and strategy and generate leadership systems around them. I help drive sustainability initiatives across our entire business. There's a lot of passion and employees routinely offer up solutions on their own. My job is to help channel the passion and use it to support a global strategy.

MA: Have you always worked for social and environmental responsibility? What are some reasons that you feel passionate about it?

BP: My passion for this work is related to raising my children. We must be mindful of the fact that we are responsible, as citizens of our planet, to make sure there is a bright future for our kids.

To me, this is not work. [CEO] Muhtar Kent told me about the CSO opportunity, which is where passion and purpose met through my career at Coke. I didn't sit down and say: "I want to be the Chief Sustainability Officer." But you can tell that I truly believe that we can make a big difference, because we understand the power of collaboration to make a difference in the world

I wake up every day and realize the significance of this title. It is amazing hearing my kids say: "you have the coolest job and we're so proud of you." For the younger generations, sustainability is the coolest thing to be working in right now.

MA: Is there a whole department at Coca-Cola dedicated to sustainability?

BP: Sustainability is not new to Coke, although the department is newly created. There were already HFC-free cooler commitments, PlantBottle packaging investments, and other projects in place, and by creating the office, we just wanted to scale the programs and further embed them into our business.

We like to say that "we're 700,000 strong in sustainability," because it's just part of how we operate. Every one of our associates plays a role in helping Coca-Cola advance our sustainability strategy and goals.

Next page: The CEO's role in sustainability at Coca-Cola