Long before green living became trendy and celebrities began touting the benefits of eco-beauty products, April Crow knew she wanted to make a difference in the world.
The born-and-bred Georgian was awarded a scholarship, left her small town for the University of Georgia’s Environmental Health Science program and became the first member of her family to attend college.
While she was in school, a Coca-Cola employee who was an alumnus of the same program came to speak. Crow was inspired by his work and immediately approached him to express interest in the company. He forwarded her resume and eventually, she was hired that summer as a Coca-Cola intern in the Environmental Affairs department.
“I’d always admired the company and enjoyed the products, but once here, I recognized the huge impact I could have being a part of such a global company and larger system."
The rest, as they say, is history. Crow has worked at Coke for 18 years now — currently as Global Sustainability Director for Packaging. Based in Atlanta, just 60 miles from where she grew up, she appreciates the opportunity to work in communities all around the world.
Here, she describes how Coca-Cola’s domestic and international sustainability efforts are changing the world, and how those values trickle down to her own children:
Throughout your 18 years at Coca-Cola, what jobs have you held?
First, I was an analyst in the Science & Regulatory Affairs group, which was more focused on ingredients. That was an interesting opportunity to learn our business and, specifically, about the health and safety of our beverages.
From there, I worked in our Quality Audit Function, which meant that I traveled, first domestically and then internationally, doing visits and manufacturing audits and working closely with suppliers. I learned about the operations, which helped me understand our supply chain and how the products are actually made. Next, I worked on a customer account team for McDonald’s, which helped me understand the value chain through to our customers and consumers.
Then, about 10 years ago, I re-entered the environmental sustainability space, which I love. I started to specialize more on our packaging. The company has a vision of a world where packaging is not seen as waste, but as a valuable resource for our future. I spend a lot of time considering the “end of life” for our products, building programs — like for recycling — and raising awareness around our sustainability efforts.
We make sure our consumers have a personal connection to our beverages visually, so we have to consider how to ensure our packaging has another life afterward, that it can be easily recycled and continue to have value. We want to ensure that there are ways it can be collected and go back into our packaging or other products.
What types of campaigns and partnerships have you launched to promote ecology?
Sustainability is something in which we all have to take part. Leveraging cultural icons like Coke itself and celebrities can help a lot with engagement. For example, will.i.am approached us after noticing the waste left over after a concert. When I first heard he was really interested in learning more about recycling, I was a bit skeptical. But I flew out to L.A. to meet with him, and he really wanted to go deep into all the specifics. It was great to see the authenticity of someone who wants to use his star power to make a difference. That passion resulted in the EKOCYCLE brand initiative to help educate people about recycling. Those kinds of experiences are really enjoyable.
What does your work day look like when you’re not hanging with will.i.am?
A lot of my time is spent working with nonprofits and other organizations looking for ways we can build coalitions of interested parties for big solutions.
I spend a lot of time outside the U.S. working in developing and emerging markets. There are people who live in landfills around the world, foraging through garbage as informal waste collectors. They pick out anything that might have value to collect and sell to junk dealers. That’s how they make their living. We’ve been able to move some of them out of those difficult conditions and help them gather safely, in a more organized way.
On my first trip to Brazil, we went to help people get out of those circumstances. We gave them gloves and vests and turned what they were doing into a more sustainable job. The idea is to help advance economic and social conditions. I remember meeting a man 10 years ago who did this and lived with his family under a bridge. He eventually led the cooperative and said that, thanks to help and support from Coca-Cola, he now had dignity. So we look to see how we can coordinate efforts in partnership with governments and other companies.
What’s the most rewarding thing about this work?
When I think about the power a company like Coca-Cola has to make an impact on people’s lives around the world and in local communities, it’s very rewarding. Regardless of where I go in the world, Coca-Cola is recognized. People want to learn more about what we do and how they can get involved.
In Thailand, I drove up to a recycling compound supported by our system and saw the smiles of these women — just the pride they had. One woman was wearing a hat she had made out of Coca-Cola packaging (pictured at right). They don’t have the waste management systems we have, but we can help advance their work into true recycling programs, and that helps with general living standards.
To me, it’s really about building sustainable communities around the world, whether I’m traveling to Thailand to support recycling cooperative development or to China to discuss the circular economy at the World Economic Forum. Coke is in 200-plus countries around the globe. That global reach, the work we are doing in these communities, and the individuals I meet truly inspire me every day.
I’m excited to come to work every day. I really am. I’m a mother, so I wanted to do something that makes me feel like I'm making a difference. My children are kind of like ambassadors for the sustainability space, too, so that’s very rewarding.
How do your sustainable interests impact your children?
At Coca-Cola, our definition of “sustainability” includes personal, community and environmental wellbeing. I couldn’t have written a better job description that combines my personal values with my professional strengths. Whether it’s joining a group of my fellow working-mom neighbors for our boot camp each morning before work or teaching my own children how to collect rainwater for our vegetable garden and compost food scraps, it's part of my DNA. I love seeing it come to life in my own children. I recently joined the board of the Captain Planet Foundation and, after sharing some older episodes of the original cartoon with my son, he came to me concerned about the limited recycling in his school. Now, we are working together to start a Planeteer Club.
Most importantly, what’s your favorite Coca-Cola beverage?
Oh, I’m a Diet Coke fan. Simple. With a fresh slice of lime, it’s the best!
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