In my role as Chief Sustainability Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, I lead our environmental and social efforts and their connection to our business. A lot of times my work comes from behind a desk, podium or in a boardroom. That’s where I can best assist our great people putting our sustainability commitments into action. However, in the field with our teams is where I am most inspired.

During a recent trip to China, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in our ongoing sustainability work and saw the impact our system is making firsthand. Great work is underway in China – and many other countries – through golden triangle partnerships (partnerships between business, government and civil society).

Our journey to see this work in China started outside the thriving metropolis of Changsha. We arrived at the Happy Farmhouse in Qingtian-Zhai. There, we are jointly working with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), our bottling partner and local governments to construct wetlands for purifying wastewater to reduce the impacts of pollution generated by ecotourism. We rolled up our sleeves and planted beneficial vegetation for the wetland. There may have been a little friendly competition to see who could finish first (eh hem, my team won!).

After cleaning up, we traveled to the company’s first sustainable tea pilot located at the Jinjing Tea Company estate (JTE), a private company of Hunan Tea Group (HTG) and tea supplier for Coca-Cola. With WWF, we have redesigned and constructed a rainwater harvesting and water-saving irrigation system and also implemented our Sustainable Agricultural Guiding Principles (SAGPs) into HTG and JTE operations for tea production. These practices benefit JTE and the local community, and contribute to our goal to sustainably source key agricultural ingredients by 2020. We tried our hand at tea picking and based on our modest yields, thought it was best left to the professionals!

Chief Sustainability Officer, Bea Perez trying her hand at tea picking in China

One evening, we stopped at a local convenience shop owned by a woman entrepreneur. Through our 5by20 program in China, we aim to provide women with basic business training to help them manage their own shops, expand profitability, enhance self-confidence and improve their overall quality of life. To date, we have empowered 60,000 women here and that number seems to be quickly growing. As I listened to these women’s hopes and dreams for their businesses, I was inspired by their ambition, and proud of our company’s global 5by20 initiative.

While the entire trip was phenomenal, a true highlight was our visit to a rural school in Hunan Province where children now receive clean drinking water. The Clean Water Project, launched in 2012 under Project Hope, provides clean drinking water to elementary school children. The project has benefitted 27 provinces, bringing clean drinking water to more than 116,000 students through 302 water purifiers installed in 283 rural schools. As a mom of two, this project hit close to home and reinforced my desire to help work toward a brighter, healthier future for all children.

Many other impressive projects are under way:

• With UNDP (United Nations Development Project) and several other critical partners, we’re working on the Haihe River Basin Flood Utilisation Demonstration Project near Beijing to replenish an average of 10 billion liters of water to the Dahuangpuwa flood retention areas every year.

• On Orange Island, our Happiness Movement has organised 397 community walks and 126 health lectures in more than 60 cities across China, with more than 1.4 million participants to date.

• In the Liuyang River-Xiang River-Dongting Lake Basin, we are ensuring safe drinking water for 5 million people through the protection of 200,000 hectares of wetlands.

Overall, we have made tremendous sustainability progress in this important region thanks to our dedication and that of our partners. While in China, I saw meaningful change but I also realise how much more is possible. Real transformation and results mandate that all of us work together for lasting change. We need more cross-sector partnerships joining the sustainability journey. If you seek inspiration, I recommend getting your feet on the ground.