A self-proclaimed “complexity junkie,” Monique OxenderKeurig Green Mountain’s Chief Sustainability Officer, doesn’t bat an eye at tackling big, complicated issues. From the future of coffee to the recyclability of Keurig’s pods, Oxender and her team have provided innovative solutions to complex issues across the value chain — all while embodying Keurig’s signature focus on collaboration.

Now, with a finger on the pulse of current trends and an eye toward the future, Oxender is leading the charge on circular economy thinking at Keurig, while focusing on building collaborations and pre-competitive partnerships that will help Keurig Green Mountain and its many stakeholders live the Good Life.

In anticipation of Oxender’s panel discussions at SB’18 Vancouver, we caught up with her to hear about the exciting value chain partnership and circular economy work brewing at Keurig Green Mountain.

How do you think about the interplay between collaboration and circular economy? What does that look like for Keurig Green Mountain?

The only way that you can make the circular economy a reality is to have all players within the value chain involved, ranging from design and concept all the way through to consumer and then end-of-use processors or new use manufacturers.

There’s a huge tie between circular economy and collaboration, and we’ve looked all across the value chain and identified who the key players, key influencers and innovators are in that space and then tried to match that with what we bring to the table to create new partnerships or join existing partnerships where we can both contribute and learn.

The theme of SB’18 Vancouver is the concept of the Good Life — incorporating principles of transparency and purpose into businesses. Why is collaboration important to Keurig’s own pursuit of the Good Life?

I think “good” is 100 percent defined and influenced by those surrounding you. It’s much less useful for any individual or organization to define “good” in a vacuum than it is to define it in terms of all those you impact and all those who impact you. When I think about defining what’s good for our company, for our consumers and for our stakeholders, you have to look at today and at the future. You need to look at where the company wants to go and needs to go in order to define what that path is going forward.

Before coming to Keurig, I had the opportunity to work at Ford for a long time. Ford had a futurist on staff, which I thought was amazing. What an incredible resource! We don’t have a futurist on staff at Keurig, so we all have to be a little bit of futurists ourselves, not only to watch what’s going on and the trends today, but also to anticipate those trends going forward. As much as we can’t define “good” in a vacuum, we also can’t define it in a static way. It’s constantly being redefined as we move into the future.

How has Keurig partnered with others to deliver on the Good Life?

When we think about partnerships, we have solutions for today and solutions for tomorrow. We have two solid examples of partnerships — investments, really — that we’ve made today so that we can deliver on this Good Life in the future. On the supply chain side in coffee, we collaborate with and support World Coffee Research. They are one of the few organizations working for the good of the coffee farmer, with open-source research and an open-source knowledge base. They’ve put technology directly into the hands of the farmer to be better able to handle and prepare for climate change impacts. That’s been a fabulous collaboration.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the question of what happens on the other side of the product as it’s leaving the consumer’s hand. There’s a picture of waste management today that looks very different from what it’s going to look like in the future. There’s a great need for investment in that space as well, anticipating both consumer and manufacturing trends. So, we’re investing in the Closed Loop Fund, to look at infrastructure investments for today and innovation for tomorrow.

Those are great examples that showcase how Keurig is working to deliver the Good LIfe on either end of the value chain. What about the space in between — at the employee level, for example?

There’s an important space in the middle with our own people and operations. Celebrating day-to-day and quarterly wins internally has been incredibly powerful to help our employees see the impact of what their individual actions are contributing to.

One of the ways we bring it to life for them is employee source trips, taking anywhere from 60 to 70 employees a year to coffee-growing regions around the world. This helps them make that connection with the fundamental purpose of their roles. Through these trips, they’re able to understand the bigger picture of the lives they’re touching around the world. This is one of the most powerful tools we have for bringing the Good Life to bear for us.

Why and how did Keurig get involved with circular economy thinking? What is the end goal?

I think that before “circular economy” was a term, we had projects that related to the concept, but they were just that: projects. Over the last five to six years, we’ve pulled back the curtain on recycling and asked, what’s really happening todayhow is it happening, and what are the challenges, limitations and opportunities here?

These questions are what led to the deep thinking and decision to operate in different ways within our company. Doing this led us down the path of seeing the entire value for the whole recycling and waste disposal industry and understanding the drivers — both behavioral and economic.

If you don’t understand the economics of material flows, you’re really just doing projects. Asking the right questions helped us understand what it meant to think about our business in terms of circular economy and how to help embed circularity for the materials that we’re using today, as well as for the materials we’d like to use in the future.

What attracts you to this work? What keeps you motivated?

I’m a complexity junkie. That’s what I loved about working at Ford. I did supply chain work at Ford, where the supply chain is massive and there is tons of complexity. That’s what attracted me to Keurig as well. At Keurig, it was an opportunity to work in the agricultural space and also on the manufacturing side, both from a food manufacturing and appliance manufacturing point of view. There are lots of different moving pieces! I love the multiple facets and trying to put those puzzle pieces together in terms of strategies and solutions that move the bar.

Speaking of moving the bar, what other companies and brands are doing a good job of incorporating the Good Life principles into their business practices? What companies do you admire?

I want to give a callout to all the B2B companies in this space. A lot of times, I think we just keep circulating the same brand names and the same Fortune 50 companies. But the reality is, more and more B2B companies are wanting to get ahead.

I look at our own supply chain and the collaboration between Falcon, a coffee importer; and Great Lakes Coffee, a coffee exporter out of Uganda, who together have done such a fabulous job at driving for transparency and purpose — the Good Life — in their work in that supply chain for coffee, a space where there was not a lot of transparency. I feel like we don’t give enough airtime or credit to these amazing B2B companies for the incredible work that they’re doing and the inspiration they provide.

This article was originally shared on the Sustainable Brands website on June 5, 2018.