Recent research shows spending money on corporate social responsibility is no longer seen as a detriment to a company’s profitability. Stock analysts now view such expenditures as essential to a company’s long-term brand and value. Coca-Cola is one of the many companies that are making efforts to tackle the world’s greatest societal challenges — water scarcity, climate change, and even the rights of women and girls in the developing world. Muhtar Kent, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Coca-Cola since 2009, talks with Harvard Business Review (HBR) about how the beverage company is embedding sustainability into its business.

Over the past several years, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has evolved from simply being an isolated “do good” arm of a company to something more profound that’s changing the way organizations do business every day. How has Coca-Cola integrated these CSR principles into your operations?

Sustainability isn’t new to us, but we’ve been intensifying our focus on it. We’re prioritizing programs centered on water, women and well-being—all three of which are essential to our business. For example, we’re working to achieve water neutrality by 2020. So far, we’ve replaced 52% of the water we use in making our beverages and reducing water usage across our 800-plus bottling plants helps reduce the overall cost of production. We have also committed to economically empowering 5 million women by 2020. This is the largest such program ever undertaken by a commercial organization. Our micro distribution centers (MDCs) in Africa, many of which are run by women, help our beverages reach small shops and kiosks that can’t be served by more trucks and vans and create value for our business, our retail and restaurant customers, and the broader communities.

Restructuring a company to focus on sustainability doesn’t happen overnight, so how long did it take to get everyone on board and how did you deal with any resistance to change?

Sustainability can no longer be a compliance measure or a “nice-to-do”; it’s now a business planning imperative with measures, goals, and explicit value connected to our programs. Because of this importance, we didn’t really experience any resistance. There were certainly people who challenged our approach and provided candid feedback on how we could improve but overall there was collective agreement that this was necessary.