Secrets of the Pioneers: Roberta Barbieri

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Roberta Barbieri

We speak to Roberta Barbieri, vice president of global water and environmental solutions at PepsiCo. She has 25 years’ experience working in environmental sustainability, including a stint at Diageo where she was the principal architect of the company’s sector-leading Global Environmental Sustainability strategy.

The interview is part of a series for a report, Secrets of Pioneers, Delivering a Decade of Green Growth, which will be launched at the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit on 9th November 2017. 

Where were you in 2007?

In 2007, I was at Diageo, the global spirits and beer company. I was the environmental health and safety director for the Americas at the time and over the course of that year, I helped create Diageo’s first full-time, global environmental sustainability role, and then I filled it.

So my job was then to set the company’s goals in carbon, zero waste to landfill and water efficiency, establish the working group to get the work done and launch the overall sustainability programme. It was fantastic and fun.

Where do you expect to be in 2027?

I expect to be working on next generation sustainability goals – and to be driving global results on environmental goals. Whatever the details are, what will be certain is that I’ll still be getting up every day striving to save the planet. I’ve been doing it for years and will still be doing it in 2027.

What is the most important lesson you have learned over the past 10 years?

You have to set your own personal prize – and then keep your eyes on it at all times. My prize is to reduce our environmental impact. So if I stay focused on that outcome in all of my work, I get the job done and I also feel inspired as I do it. Once you determine what your prize is and focus on that outcome, in my experience, everything else falls into line.

What is your vision for the green economy in 10 years’ time and what do we need to get us there?

I think it’s going to take more than 10 years to create a green economy. Right now, progress is too slow and the true disruptors that could catalyse progress are too few. We need more ‘Tesla-like’ big ideas to get us to a green economy.

What will be the biggest changes from today’s world?

In 2027, the impacts of climate change to our world will be more visible. There will be an even greater presence of plastics in the environment.

Roberta Barbieri

Which three sustainability challenges will be top of the agenda in 2027?

In 10 years, we’ll have made progress on water scarcity. So, among our top challenges will be slowing climate change, determining a new role for plastics in the world, and managing the effects of biodiversity loss and natural habitat destruction.

Will the world be on course for two degrees in 2027? 

I think we are too late to save the world from a 2C change unless someone somewhere figures out some amazing breakthrough.The new ‘prize’ in my opinion is to adjust to what will be the new normal in 2027 and work hard to keep the change in temperatures to as low a number as possible.

If you could invest in one clean technology through to 2027 which would it be and why?

I’d invest in breakthrough battery storage technology. Imagine if you could drive further without charging your vehicle as often. Imagine how payback periods will change if we could store solar or wind energy on days that the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. And if I had to choose another one to invest in, it would be an innovation in carbon capture. I don’t know what that piece of equipment is, but we need it. We need a safe way to capture carbon and store it

What advice would you give to a sustainability professional starting their job today?

Embrace the ambiguity of what we do. Get comfortable with it and get the job done in new ways.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

You have to be a raging optimist to be in this field. If we’re successful, there’s hope for a future in which humans are a constructive force on the earth, rather than a destructive one

Roberta Barbieri

This interview is one of a series which make up a report, Secrets of the Pioneers: Delivering a Decade of Green Growth, to be published on 9th November, coinciding with the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit.

We have already featured 10 other interviews with leaders from the sector, including Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at Marks & Spencer and climate scientist Dr Emily Shuckburgh. These interviews and many others are available on the blog.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of both BusinessGreen and Greenhouse PR, the specialist communications agency which supports businesses, entrepreneurs and campaigners working to create a green economy.

At Greenhouse, we support a wide variety of organisations pioneering new standards of sustainability across multiple sectors. Whether it’s fashion, finance or farming, we’re always on the look-out for new opportunities to reach our clients’ target audiences. If you’ve got a great story and need our help to tell it, we’d love to hear from you.

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