December 07, 2020  

A discovery that’s saving millions of gallons of water

While keeping PepsiCo quality high, Serge Goussaert found a whole new way to practice water conservation.

Serge Goussaert loves board games. Thinking three moves ahead, patiently maneuvering, always anticipating the endgame: Board games are about clever strategizing, whether you’re building a medieval kingdom or a railroad empire — and those same skills have served him well in his role as Senior Manager for Global Quality at PepsiCo. “In these games I am always thinking, ‘How can I do the best with my assets?’” he says. “And that is also what I’m applying to my work."

Based in Zeebrugge, Belgium, Serge is part of a team that oversees quality and safety guidelines for beverages at more than 600 sites around the world — guidelines that have implications for everything from how easily a Pepsi bottle twists open to making sure bubly has enough bubbles. One current project focuses on the flavor changeover process in bottling plants — going from Pepsi to Mountain Dew without altering the flavor of either. It’s had a surprising additional benefit: saving millions of gallons of water every year.

Originally, Serge was hoping he’d find a way to save time with the flavor changeover system. He’d started by poring over spreadsheets and charts to see where changes could be made. “We look at the data to see if there’s an opportunity,” Serge explains. “I want to hear the story behind the data.” The big opportunity he saw was in how the machines in the bottling plants were rinsed.

I want to hear the story behind the data.

Serge dug into the process, looking at how to cut down on rinsing times, second by precious second. He ended up implementing software that precisely times how long the equipment is cleaned, then shuts the water off at exactly the right moment. “Soon enough I found that if you played it right, you would have our quality standards, align with productivity and save some water in the process,” he says. And how: One site alone following Serge’s new protocols is now saving hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per year.

In his quest to streamline the flavor changeover process further, Serge joined forces with the Sustainability and Sanitation teams to update the cleaning methods for the tanks used to flavor soft drinks. Rather than continuously rinse each tank for up to 30 minutes at a time, a new “burst rinsing” method sprays the tanks in 30-second spurts. It’s equally effective for cleaning, already saving eight million gallons of water a year for the company — that’s more than 12 Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth.

These updates have been so successful, they’re now rolling out across PepsiCo sites in North America. And burst rinsing is a priority for the water scarce areas where the company has a goal of improving water efficiency by 25% by 2025.

Serge says he couldn’t imagine accomplishing what he has without his PepsiCo network — one built over 22 years at the company. He was recruited to PepsiCo straight from university and has found his double major in cellular and genetic engineering and political science brings the right balance of analytical and people skills for working in Quality. He started off as a water engineer at Frito Lay, then moved to doing preventative maintenance on the frontline before working in beverage quality. “There’s always a specialist I can reach out to and learn something new,” he says. “The world is small, even at a big company like PepsiCo.”

The world is small, even at a big company like PepsiCo.

His favorite way to troubleshoot is connecting with frontline workers. Together, he and plant workers in Vietnam recently found a way to improve the sorting process for returnable glass bottles; it’s now used at more than 100 sites. “Everyone knows that PepsiCo stands for quality,” Serge says. “So if you’re able to have an impact on that, it really gives me pride.”