Bea Perez leads a group more populous than the city of Seattle. As Coca-Cola’s chief sustainability officer (the company’s first) she oversees more than 700,000 people—because every employee at Coca-Cola participates in sustainability efforts. Under her leadership, the company has set a number of objectives to be reached by 2020, including improving water efficiency by 25 percent, replenishing 100 percent of the water the company uses, recovering 75 percent of bottles and cans in developed markets, and supporting small and sustainable farms.
Although serving as a chief sustainability officer is new for Perez, who was named to the position in 2011, service itself is not. She is a leader in several community service organizations, including the Grammy Foundation and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She sits on the Board of Trustees for Save the Children Fund, which promotes children’s rights and relief in developing countries. Her work in both the private and public sector allows her to tackle varying objectives close to her heart. “My biggest challenge,” she says of her appointment at Coca-Cola, “is having to pick and choose where to focus our initiatives. There are so many problems to be solved in this world.”
Perez’s background is in marketing, so she understands that Coca-Cola has to function first as a business to have room to tackle sustainability issues. Before she stepped into her current role, she was chief marketing officer of Coca-Cola North America. She joined the company in 1996 after transitioning from an advertising agency, where she handled Coca-Cola initiatives. That business-oriented background has helped her outline realistic and worthwhile goals, and the company is transparent in reporting its progress in meeting those initiatives. Coca-Cola’s annual sustainability report outlines its objectives and how much closer it has come to meeting them within the previous year.
What Perez keeps in mind as a leader, and what she tries to impart to all 700,000 people she oversees, is that sustainability can’t be an afterthought. It has to be part of the planning and development phase of every project, and it has to be an integral part of operations. “You also have to know what you stand for,” she says. “And if you’re missing opportunities on the ground to make an impact, you have to listen to your local people.”
Read up on the rest of our 10 Most Powerful Women in Sustainability here.