Industrial water stewardship: An interview with PepsiCo’s Liese Dallbauman

PepsiCo India
India PepsiCo achieved Positive Water Balance for the first time in 2009, which means the business put back or conserved as much as what was taken out at the country level. Image: Radiokafka /

This feature news is part of Singapore International Water Week’s (SIWW) series of one-on-one interviews with global water industry leaders, Conversations with Water Leaders. In this edition, Liese Dallbauman, director for Water Stewardship of PepsiCo, speaks with OOSKAnews correspondent, Renee Martin-Nagle, on industrial water stewardship.

Liese Dallbauman shares PepsiCo’s initatives on water and energy conservation, improving water use efficiency through achieving Positive Water Balance, managing climate change and more.

PepsiCo managed to reduce water and energy related costs by more than $45 million in 2011 compared to 2006. How did you achieve this feat?

Very good question. We have an in-house tool called ReCon, which is short for Resource Conservation, a software tool which allows us to track where and how a resource is being used by guiding our analysis of the resource and providing a software database for capturing information. ReCon tracks the use of energy, water and production of waste, allowing us to identify where in the plant we are using the resource or generating the waste. To begin, you do a very detailed audit in the plant. Different uses inside the plant have different values attached to them especially with respect to water use. For example, you don’t treat or purify water to wash the floor, so this water is relatively cheap. Water that goes into a boiler has to be softened and heated, so this water is more expensive than the water you use to wash the floor. If you run your boiler more effectively and more efficiently, you will use less fuel and waste less water. Any heating and cooling application where water is involved is a great opportunity to save both water and energy.

PepsiCo is a large organization with over 250,000 employees. How did PepsiCo empower people from the hundreds of PepsiCo beverage and snack plants around the world to be enthusiastic about water?

We have over 300 locations, so we follow a train-the-trainer approach. My group, Global Operations, supports the field by offering tools and training. We do everything we can to accommodate other locations’ schedules and any special needs that they have. The Global Operations Environmental Sustainability team is small — six people. I am the water person. So it is absolutely necessary for us to diffuse the message and let the people in the regions and in the plants take their own approach, which is very different around the world.

It is absolutely necessary for us to diffuse the [conservation] message and let the people in the regions and in the plants take their own approach, which is very different around the world.

Latin America is great about knitting community into their approach. At a plant in Latin America, there are big posters saying, “Save water and save energy for your children’s future.” Similarly, in the Middle East, they have a little cartoon sheik, saying, “Save some water.” The messages are adapted and adopted locally. Every year, Global Operations has a series of awards called the Center of Excellence Awards, which are competitive as you have to demonstrate that you have used the ReCon tools successfully, creatively and for an extended period of time. This also motivates employees to manage resources effectively through using ReCon.

In addition to setting strategy and goals, how does your group support the field in pushing out sustainability efforts?

Global Ops is a support structure for Global Business. We build the tools and serve as a resource center and a clearinghouse for questions. My team, along with individuals from the different businesses, is building a best practices database where you type in key words and the database will spit back answers. One of our team members is fabulous at building tools, and she’s built something we call the “Treated Water Efficiency Tool” for optimizing a water treatment system. She has taken something that R&D developed conceptually and made it amazingly friendly and useful. The businesses themselves have people focused on sustainability as well. For example, there’s a person in Dubai who is the director of environmental sustainability for Asia, Middle East, and Africa, and there are also dedicated sustainability roles in many of the individual countries. We also have an Environmental Sustainability Council which meets regularly to discuss best practices.

How do you think is Singapore contributing to the global dialogue and global solutions for water?

NEWater is absolutely the world leader in reclaimed water. I think they have been very smart with that. Technically, it’s a good system, but I think they have managed the communications beautifully as well. The recycled water is mostly used for industry, but people can get it in bottles. They never mandate that people to drink NEWater; they made it cool. There’s a mascot called Water Wally who is a big water drop and has become quite popular in the region. Water Wally is even in wedding pictures. I think these communication efforts are amazing and I always raise Singapore as a good example. Their systems and approaches have operated reliably for a long time. They’re the best in the world. 

PepsiCo has undertaken some interesting projects in India to improve water use efficiency. Can you provide some insights on these projects?

In 2009, the India PepsiCo business for the first time achieved Positive Water Balance, which means we put back or conserve as much as we take out at the country level. The numbers are blessed by Deloitte, and India achieved it in 2009, and every year since. Now there’s additional focus on achieving the balance in specific locations in India. This, of necessity, means interacting with the community. You can’t go down to zero water use in a beverage plant, but you can think of innovative ways to save more water. The first step is always for the plant to operate as efficiently as possible. Beyond that, we partnered with Punjab Agricultural University and worked with scientists there to develop a method of growing rice that would save significant water. Rice is usually grown by paddy flooding, and together with the university, PepsiCo developed a method called direct seeding.  Instead of flooding the paddy with standing water, the seedlings are cultivated in greenhouses and then planted in the field. You use less water, and you generate less methane (a greenhouse gas) because a standing rice paddy generates a huge amount of methane. This method also removes a disease vector. So this is a win-win-win situation. 

What other meaningful initiative has PepsiCo executed in India?

We have a plant in a town called Pothireddypally. PepsiCo worked with a local NGO, Alternative Development Initiatives, that has a philosophy of engaging the community to address water resources’ issues. They had a three-pronged approach. The first prong was to restore surface water bodies known as cheruvus. The second was to work with farmers to educate them on things like drip irrigation, multi-cropping, and creating diversified farm programs. The third prong is to support community and gender empowerment through formation of women’s self-help groups. Among other things, these groups were encouraged to participate in microfinance operations.

I understand that PepsiCo focuses a lot of efforts to achieve positive water balance in your operations. Is the Positive Water Balance program being implemented outside India?

Positive Water Balance looks at quantity of water, but people also have to have enough clean water. So Positive Water Balance is evolving into something called Positive Water Impact to make more and/or better water available. In 2011, at the Stockholm World Water Week, we launched a report on our Positive Water Impact pilot projects in Sangareddy, Zhanjiang, China, Phoenix, Mexico City and Boxford, UK. We worked with the Nature Conservancy and Limnotech to understand the critical questions that have to be answered before the right solution set can be determined. We ended up with five solution sets to answer the questions. That report is online and is called “Striving for Positive Water Impact.”

How is PepsiCo planning for climate change?

Almost everything we make has an agricultural component to it. One of the partners we work with is The Earth Institute’s Columbia Water Center (CWC) where they have very smart people doing very sophisticated climate modeling.

I give you an example. We source for a lot of potatoes from a district within Maharashtra state in India. To understand how to manage climate risks due to droughts, floods, annual monsoons etc, we engaged CWC’s help. India has 100 years of climate and meteorological data. CWC took this data, combined it with short-term information on El Niño and sea surface temperature to predict the likelihood of anomalies. The model was developed last year and wasn’t ready in time to influence planting decisions. However, they did say that very early in the growing season, there’s a significant likelihood that the monsoon is going to be light and late this year in Maharashtra. And they were right! As a result of their work, the procurement team made some decisions on storage. Now we’re looking at expanding this study to different geographies, and on different crops. We can then work with our procurement folks and suppliers to manage such risks.

I don’t know if PepsiCo has a bigger challenge than anyone else. Water is a limited resource. It is a local resource. You have to engage locals early, often and consistently – you can’t just direct things from one central office.

How did you personally get into water and sustainability industries?

I’m a chemical engineer by training, but I’ve never worked in a traditional chemical engineering job. I worked for a while at NASA, studying air and water recycling that will be needed should astronauts go to Mars. When I left NASA, I worked for other organizations, including the Gas Technology Institute to look at CO2 capture and carbon storage. The connecting thread is really environmental separations – purifying water and air. About five years ago, I started doing what I’m doing now – international water. 

What do you see as PepsiCo’s biggest challenge as far as water is concerned and how does PepsiCo deal with it?

I don’t know if PepsiCo has a bigger challenge than anyone else. Water is a limited resource. It is a local resource. You have to engage locals early, often and consistently – you can’t just direct things from one central office. That’s true not only within our operational units but with the local community, with the local government, and with the local interested parties.

What final message would you like to give to our readers?

Everyone needs water. Businesses need water, people need water, communities need water, and we all need to be partners with respect to using water responsibly, conserving water and sharing water. 

This post originally appeared here.

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