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Delta, Prologis and PepsiCo: The art of winning corporate buy-in for sustainability

Preaching the benefits for customers is the best way to get support for environmental initiatives, they say.

Photo of Team Sport session at GreenBiz 24

Suzanne Fallender of Prologis (far left), Amelia DeLuca of Delta Air Lines and Todd Squarek of PepsiCo discuss how to earn cross-company support for sustainability. Allison Fass/GreenBiz

One of the more rewarding experiences for sustainability professionals is demonstrating how decarbonization can become a source of competitive advantage.

At PepsiCo, for example, that meant reducing emissions from running the refrigerators dedicated to PepsiCo brands in grocery stores. The food and beverage company is one of the largest purveyors of cold-chain equipment in the world and a significant source of power consumption for its customers. So it offers renewable power-purchase agreements and other options, according to a senior sustainability executive. That’s just one way in which is considers customer needs when planning.

"We believe, and our senior-most executive believes, that we will win in the marketplace with consumers and customers only if, over time, we are the most sustainable in our industry," said Todd Squarek, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer for PepsiCo Beverages North America, during a session Monday at GreenBiz 24, hosted by this site’s parent company, GreenBiz Group. "That's a fundamental strategic decision."

Make it about the customer

Getting there requires sustainability professionals to deepen their relationships with procurement teams, accounting and finance, customer success organizations, design — all other operational disciplines, said Squarek and his fellow panelists. The common denominator: Finding ways to sustain revenue growth while helping customers deliver on their emissions reduction strategies.

For real estate investment trust Prologis, which owns more than 1.2 billion square feet of warehouse and distribution center space, that means ensuring new construction considers factors such as whether a roof could support solar panels in the future or how a site could be optimized for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, said Suzanne Fallender, vice president of ESG at Prologis.

"One of our main motivators for our executive team was how we think of offering a differentiator with our real estate business and being customer-centric," said Fallender. "We need to know that our customers are setting these big goals and they have needs."

One of those customers is PepsiCo, which is managing an ambitious plan to decarbonize its fleet of more than 70,000 vehicles. Prologis is collaborating with PepsiCo to support charging needs for the electric trucks it has been adding around North America.

Come with financial proof

The Delta Air Lines sustainability team has won support for sustainability initiatives by appealing to consumer interest and demonstrating the financial savings the airline might achieve, said Amelia DeLuca, chief sustainability officer.

Delta is funding the electrification of its ground-support equipment, a project that offers benefits related to safety, decreased maintenance and improved reliability. Over time, she said, that expertise will be transferred into Delta’s other business units in a natural progression of sustainability experiments.

Another example she cited was a measure to allow some passengers to preselect meals, which helps reduce the weight on planes, reducing jet-fuel consumption while improving the customer experience. By burning less fuel — which accounts for 90 percent of Delta's emissions — the airline both reduces its footprint and saves money.

"What we're out there doing with sustainability is just proving this is a no-brainer," said DeLuca. "It's going to set our business up for success."

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