PepsiCo has challenged universities and colleges to scheme and hatch innovative sustainability ideas for years. Now, the corporation has taken this focus further by launching Zero Impact Fund in August 2016, rewarding schools’ projects related to energy, waste or water that aim to achieve long-term environmental, economic and social impacts.
So far eight schools have received up to $10,000 each.
“Given that this was the first year of the Zero Impact Fund initiative, we didn’t know what to expect,” says Tim Carey, senior director sustainability PepsiCo. “We were blown away by the number of applicants and the quality of the ideas … We received over 40 eligible applications that were extremely well thought-out, creative, goal-oriented, and committed to sustainability. Applicants analyzed their areas of need, developed strategic solutions to deliver sizable impacts, and clearly communicated their rationale.”
Green initiatives ranged from ways to engage students to take small, simple actions that add up, to large-scale endeavors like renewable energy projects.
A few specific ones were expanded campus composting; streamlined office and classroom recycling to boost diversion; and a program where bicycles were made available for shared use.
The Zero Impact Fund builds on PepsiCo’s earlier work, which included partnering with colleges and universities to increase campus recycling. Last year, partly because campuses had started recycling more effectively, the company decided to partner on a broader range of sustainability activities. The Zero Impact Fund was the result, with the aim to help students, faculty and administrators advance sustainability agendas, based on their individual needs.
“It’s really important that projects align with [schools’] unique goals,” Carey says. “We don’t want to offer something that isn’t a priority for them, or worse yet, that they don’t need. Students and school administrators have great, innovative ideas, and they know what is needed to address their individual sustainability goals.”
Millersville (Pa.) University’s goal is to go carbon neutral by 2040, and it is currently constructing the campus’ first net zero energy building, says Chris Steuer, sustainability manager at Millersville University.
The school’s Zero Impact Fund project to help it reach its goals provides an event kit to student sustainability ambassadors to support outreach events.
These ambassadors have led or participated in an Earth Day celebration, public weather awareness day and a campus energy conservation campaign.
At the first two events, students focused on recycling education. Through the energy conservation campaign they focused on tasks like measuring energy use of various devices in residence halls. Campus energy use declined 4 percent during the campaign and one hall reduced energy use by 65 percent.
“Measurement and promotion are the greatest lessons in being able to make this program work,” Steuer says. “We have capabilities … to measure savings in all of our metric areas. But we want to improve how quickly we’re able to measure reductions in some targeted areas.
“We also have a pretty thorough outreach approach that uses multiple media platforms, but we’re looking to use the funds to develop even more creative ways of getting the word out [about sustainability efforts and their importance]—particularly through video,” he adds.
The University of California, Irvine (UCI) used its Zero Impact Fund reward to develop interactive digital waste bins that will display messaging on each item deposited in the bins. This will provide instant feedback to encourage proper waste sorting and teach what items can be composted and recycled.
UCI aims to achieve Zero Waste by 2020, diverting at least 95 percent of all solid waste from landfills. So far the campus has achieved 81 percent waste diversion, and UCI hospitality and dining has achieved over 95 percent throughout the campus dining halls.
“In conjunction with “Trash Talking,” educational events held in our retail eateries, … we believe that this project will take UCI’s waste diversion program further,” says Tyson Monagle, marketing coordinator at UCI.
PepsiCo continues to follow each awarded project, looking to see if and how they go further. It conducts quarterly check-ins with project leads. The goal is to have a long-term strategy for ongoing management to see lasting results that will add up.
“It has been an exciting journey to see our next generation of leaders exhibiting such passion as they engage their peers and administrators to implement these powerful programs and ideas,” Carey says.