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Making Change Happen: Why Partnerships With Purpose Are The Way Forward We need a balance to openly discuss environmentalism that both motivates governmental action and fosters a sustainable lifestyle.

By Aamer Sheikh

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As I read the news every morning, I cannot help but think that the world has been turned on its head this summer. Those who joined the annual exodus to flee the blistering heat in the UAE were met with, well, blistering heat across much of Europe. We have also recently witnessed the devastating flooding in Pakistan with one-third of the country currently under water, while in the northern and eastern coasts of the UAE, the National Center of Meteorology has said we had the wettest July in decades- there was a time when we wouldn't even see a cloud in the sky from June through to October. More recently, sandstorms have engulfed the region, with experts widely speculating they could proliferate because of climate change.

It is now old hat to say that concerted leadership and action on the climate agenda are urgent. We're no longer debating the urgency to act; we're looking for ways to act that are truly thoughtful and impactful. But discussing climate solutions can feel disjointed. There is an argument for individual action and collective action, and while they can often be at odds with another, they shouldn't be. Yes, we need systemic change, but calls for individual action are not a distraction. We need a balance to openly discuss environmentalism that both motivates governmental action and fosters a sustainable lifestyle.

At my company, PepsiCo, through PepsiCo Positive (pep+), our end-to-end transformation strategy that puts sustainability at the center of future growth, we are charting a new course to drive positive action for people and planet. But even a company as big as ours cannot move the needle on sustainability unless players at different levels come together to effect systemic change. For businesses to truly deliver on their sustainability objectives, they must engage partners that not only enable their commercial goals, but that align with the company's purpose.

With a constant eye on the bottom line in what is an ever-increasingly challenging economic environment, how can companies really go about fostering connections that place purpose at the heart of the endeavor? Here is our four-pronged approach to implementing a sustainability program with the right partners:

1. Find your purpose Sometimes the easy part is joining a cause. We can all commit to something, and announce it with great fanfare. But do we know why we are doing it? It cannot be driven solely by profits. By focusing on the reasons why, we can create a compelling argument that will encourage others to join. In any potential partnership, both entities must be able to get to the bottom of their "why." PepsiCo's "why," for example, lies in the launch of pep+.

Our products are enjoyed one billion times each day around the world, across 200 countries and territories, supporting over 300,000+ employees. Last year, this helped us generate US$79 billion in net revenue. How do we do this? Think about our value chain. It begins with the crops grown by our farmers and suppliers, which are made into food and drinks and packaged at our manufacturing facilities, then delivered to stores where they are purchased, consumed, and later recycled or collected as waste. If we aren't cognizant of the environment in which these crops are grown, what happens to our packaging once consumed, or how much water we use at our factories, we can neither sustain the business, nor the livelihoods of the 300,000+ employees who are helping PepsiCo grow every day.

This is our "why." We have a responsibility and the power to drive positive change. pep+ is the "how." It is a blueprint to transform what we do, and how we do it.

2. Share knowledge and encourage innovation Any partnerships should align to a common goal to tackle pertinent issues and problem-solve. This will help guide the collaboration. For example, we made a commitment to tackle plastics waste in the UAE, but we neither have the expertise nor the infrastructure to recycle packaging waste. With that in mind, we joined in a strategic partnership with local waste and environmental management firm Bee'ah, who were able to work with us to support in collecting and recycling the equivalent of all Aquafina packaging produced in the UAE last year. We have now renewed that commitment with Bee'ah for 2022.

Similarly, we've worked with several startups from across the MENA region, as well as the UAE's Ministry of Climate Change and Food Tech Valley over the last six months as part of our Greenhouse Accelerator Program to find disruptive solutions to packaging waste. We've extended our strengths -the resources, capital, network, and expertise- to support their growth, but as a big multinational corporation with complex processes, we also absorbed a great deal about agility and innovation from the startups to help advance our own business.

3. Hold each other accountable Any partnership must work for both sides, both in terms of the contributions made, and the outcomes received. And it must have the buy-in from everyone in the respective organizations, from the top down. There needs to be a collective responsibility, and people need to feel like they are part of the change. Trust is important here. Jointly setting up targets and deliverables work in favour of building a win-win model. There needs to be mutually accepted metrics to gauge the success of the relationship and its impact.

For example, in the UAE, we worked closely with Expo 2020 Dubai's waste management partner Dulsco to collect and recycle all PepsiCo waste on-site, and helped Expo 2020 Dubai divert 85% of the waste away from the landfill. We also piloted innovations like the Aquafina Water Station to minimize single-use plastic and support Expo in its goal to become the most sustainable World Expo ever, and in doing so through the 28 stations we had on site, we saved the usage of over 500,000 plastic bottles.

4. Drive conversation You may have found the best partner with an outstanding vision and a clear mission to save the planet. But if nobody knows about it, then the chances are it will be doomed to failure. Work together to unify strategy, story, messaging, and communication materials across various channels. Collective platforms are important to meet with like-minded players, discuss best practice, and explore potential areas of collaboration. For example, Expo 2020 Dubai gave us the opportunity to discuss our sustainability priorities with several government and industry leaders in a way that opened multiple possibilities for cross-industry and public sector collaboration.

By working together in a purposeful manner, companies can combine their knowledge and expertise to address the issues that matter to them. The drive towards a common goal will possess a greater strength when we join forces.

Related: The Critical Role Green Social Entrepreneurs Need To (And Should) Play At Upcoming COP Meetings

Aamer Sheikh

CEO, PepsiCo Middle East.

Aamer Sheikh is the CEO of PepsiCo Middle East.  

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