Corporate America takes note of effort to become more sustainable, kinder to our planet

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Pollution is killing our ocean, which is filled with more than 150 million tons of plastic.

Earlier this year, the city of Miami Beach took a bold step to reduce its plastic footprint by ditching Coca-Cola as its official beverage sponsor and partnering up with Pepsi, which pledged to drastically reduce its plastic packaging.

Pepsi is committed to becoming more sustainable and kinder to our planet through its new Pep Positive initiative, and corporate America is taking note.

“This is not a one day effort or a one day initiative,” said PepsiCo Senior Key Account Manager Brian Ortiz. “This is a long-term commitment for us at PepsiCo to be more sustainable, not just with our packaging, but also within our backyard.”

On this sunny October morning, 50 employees from PepsiCo converged on the Julia Tuttle Causeway to clean up all the trash that had washed up on its shores.

“It’s sad, you know?” Ortiz said.

To say this was an eye-opening experience would be an understatement, especially since this same spot was cleaned only two weeks prior when more than 2,300 pounds of litter was pulled from these same banks of Biscayne Bay by volunteers from Clean Miami Beach during International Coastal Cleanup Day.

“There was another cleanup two weeks ago. It’s pretty unbelievable to see the amount of trash,” one volunteer said.

It is a Sisyphean task -- the more trash you clean up, the more shows up just days later. The majority of it is plastic.

Ortiz, who is a Miami native, has been working for Pepsi for 15 years.

He came home from his senior account manager job in Orlando to give back to a city that has just formed a powerful new alliance with his employer.

“Here in the city of Miami Beach, we have a partnership and by 2025 we would want to be plastic-free on all of our beverages and food containers,” said Ortiz. “So that is our goal is to be more sustainable, more positive.”

The Pep Positive initiative is Pepsi’s promise to become more sustainable, less wasteful and be a leader in the green evolution of the global food and beverage industry.

“There’s a new business reality — consumers are becoming more interested in the future of the planet and the society. And we’re not afraid to take bold steps, right, to make sure that we’re changing the way we do business,” said Paul Mihovilovic, PepsiCo Vice President Of Food Services South Division.

When the city of Miami Beach’s 10-year beverage sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola expired last year, the beach ditched Coke in favor of Pepsi because Pepsi committed to drastically reducing its plastic packaging. Coke would not.

“And we decided that what we were going to do is pick a partner who cared as much about this waterway as we do,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said. “We harness our purchasing power, and saying, ‘Look, we’re not going to care just about money, we’re gonna care about what’s behind me -- this environment, this beautiful waterway.”

Pepsi stepped up with a $2.3 million, 10-year deal that is 100% plastic-free for all sodas and waters sold in city-owned venues, public parks and beaches.

From now on, only sodas and waters packaged in recyclable aluminum will be served.

“This is the first plastic-free contract for beverages that I’ve ever seen. I don’t think this exists anywhere else where it’s all plastic free for all soda and water. It’s a huge contract. It’s a big deal,” said clean water advocate Dave Doebler.

Doebler, who is the former Miami Beach Sustainability chair, has been fighting for this for 15 years. He sees this as a watershed moment.

“I think other cities are gonna see this and will say, ‘I want that.’ And so that’s my whole goal,” he said.

And the corporate world is following suit.

Giants like Norwegian Cruise Lines, Evian, American Airlines, and even McDonald’s are all pledging to dramatically reduce their plastic footprint by 2025.

“As soon as we create that sense of this is good for them financially, then you’re going to see a major change in the marketplace, which I think is beginning to happen. A good example is my city,” Gelber said.

“We need to make sure that the contracts that we pass reflect our own values in keeping the environment clean, and that’s what this does, reducing the amount of plastics,” Miami Beach Vice Mayor Alex Fernandez said.

The Pepsi crew on the Julia Tuttle Causeway picked up 900 pounds of trash in just two hours, illustrating just how vital it is to go plastic free.

If corporate America can do it, so can all of us.

“As one of the world’s largest beverage and food companies, it’s our responsibility -- it’s our responsibility to set the tone, set a positive impact on our community, and we have to do better,” Ortiz said.

Recycling is not the answer. Studies show that less than 9 percent of all global plastics are ever recycled.

In Tallahassee, the current leadership in the State Legislature has blocked all local municipalities and counties from passing any laws that ban or restrict plastic.

This leaves local governments kneecapped in trying to address the growing plastic pollution crisis, that’s why this new partnership program with Pepsi is so important to the City of Miami Beach.

Miami Dade is now considering a similar deal with its beverage sponsor to reduce the county’s plastic footprint.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.