Last week, International Women’s Day marked yet another year of female excellence, delivering to the spotlight a number of incredible, hard-working, and inspirational women who pushed the boundaries of society so that others may follow. This year, Earth.org would like to commemorate a uniquely driven woman, one who moved up the ranks of the corporate world to inject her knowledge and understanding of sustainability and ethics into the food and beverage industry. Her name is Liz Nieboer, and she currently works as head of sustainability and external affairs at Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I (SBF GB&I), one of the largest soft drink manufacturers in Great Britain and Ireland, and home to iconic brands Lucozade and Ribena. In an exclusive interview with Earth.org, Nieboer shares her life journey, what she does at SBF GB&I, and what corporate sustainability means to her within the food and beverage industry.
In recognition of International Women’s Day last week, Liz Nieboer, head of sustainability and external affairs at Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I (SBF GB&I), was invited to share some insights into her life, her career, and what it’s like to be a woman who has excelled tremendously over time, all while keeping sustainability at the forefront of her journey.
At SBF GB&I, one of the largest soft drink manufacturers in Great Britain and Ireland, Nieboer is in charge of not only corporate communications and public affairs, but also their sustainability agenda. In other words, Nieboer formulates and leads their approach to sustainability throughout their entire organisation within the UK.
“It’s a really rich role because I’m exploring both what we do to augment our corporate reputation, but also importantly, what we are doing on our sustainability journey, what the milestones are that we set out to achieve, how we track them and how we make sure that report remains accurate,” said Nieboer.
Nieboer’s first foray into the world of corporate sustainability was during her time spent with Coca-Cola in Great Britain, where she was head of strategic communications. Though the titles were somewhat different, the responsibilities were quite similar in that she also led their sustainability and public affairs, as well as health and wellness. Since then, focusing on corporate communications and sustainability has become her main interest.
“It was a great role, and I learned lots about sustainability. I have been working in that remit ever since.” said Nieboer.
Thankfully, SBF GB&I shares her passion and drive for sustainability. Since she started working with the company, Nieboer noticed a positive change in the way that businesses approach sustainability. As she stated, in the past, the voice, responsibility, and accountability behind corporate sustainability was often sequestered to a particular division or individual. Today, corporate sustainability has become far more dispersed and embedded across entire businesses, a characteristic that SBF GB&I is happy to share.
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“There’s been a real seismic change, I think, both in understanding of what sustainability means and the measures of reporting it and tracking it to the way that it is genuinely embedded within an organisation like Suntory.” explained Nieboer.
“It’s been a brilliant journey, actually. There is a real passion and nimbleness and dynamic focus on sustainability within the organisation. I feel really proud to be part of that.”
Being the head of sustainability and external affairs, Nieboer works closely with teams responsible for reducing scope one, two and three emissions, an initiative that involves the reduction of plastic usage, as well an increase in the amount of recyclables used in packaging. In addition, Nieboer’s work at SBF GB&I has also given her the opportunity to lower the sugar levels in their drink products, an achievement that not only makes them healthier but also reduces their carbon footprint.
“We have already reduced the sugar content by [an amount equivalent to] 25,000 tonnes of sugar,” explained Nieboer. “There’s been a huge journey and it took a huge amount of work.”
Given her affinity for greener initiatives, one can’t help but wonder where it all began. According to Nieboer, it was all thanks to her mother, one of her greatest inspirations; a long-time, habitual conserver and recycler, keeping the planet clean at a time when “recycling wasn’t even a thing”.
“I have to thank my mother who was born in the midst of the Second World War,” she explained.
“Growing up in those post-war years, she grew up with a real sense of using the resources that you really needed. Lights were always turned off in every room you exited […]. I think I was brought up with a real sense of value and appreciation and respect for what you use and how you used it.”
Though Nieboer’s mother was the first to make a unique and impactful imprint on her life, there were other notable influences, namely her former boss from Coca Cola, as well as two “very strong female role models” that she met working at SBF GB&I. These women, she explained, were both able to effectively balance their work life with their home life, a task that many in the corporate world find to be significantly difficult.
“There is nothing more powerful than seeing people in more senior positions who are doing that, and doing it incredibly successfully to really give a sense for the generation coming up that it is a possibility and that it can be done and you can achieve many things on different fronts and have a successful career.” said Nieboer. “That, I think, has been really inspirational.”
Now that Nieboer has reached a level of expertise that others may find inspiring, she has chosen to put her name forward to mentor others through a program SBF GB&I offers, in partnership with their brand Lucozade, called Apprentice Nation. Interestingly, the program utilises music to empower and assist others on their life journey.
“In the years to come, there’s an important part that I need to play more rigorously with the next generation, beyond my work, to find ways in which I can help mentor and support them.”
As for other women choosing to go into the sustainability sector, Nieboer strongly encourages doing so. As she states, there are more and more women that have already decided on this particular career path, and would make excellent role models for newcomers to focus on.
“I think it is a growing, dynamic, hugely exciting and interesting area.”
But before entering the workforce as a woman, Nieboer strains the importance of fostering one particular quality: “For women in particular, have that confidence, have that faith to express and have your voice.” she said. “Your voice and your opinions are as valuable as the next person in the room.”
Featured image: Liz Nieboer.