With the natural resources of our planet being used up at phenomenal rates and the continuous growth of our planet’s population, we all have our fair share of responsibility in keeping our practices sustainable. This ranges from the type of cars that we drive to the number of children that we have right down to the type of food that we purchase for dinner.
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As sustainability becomes more important not only to the environment but also to consumers it, in turn, becomes more important to businesses. In some cases, companies care more about the environment than some individuals do. This could be due to the lack of common knowledge by the individuals or potentially a higher moral standing of those at the helm of the larger companies leading the way.
One of the companies that continues to spend millions on innovation and sustainability is one of the most known companies in the world, Coca-Cola. A world‑wide company know best for its sugary soft drink has also become synonymous with sustainability.
Coca-Cola’s history goes all the way back to 1886 when it was first introduced, however, you will have to look almost as far back for their first signs of sustainability and it’s interest in a global community.
Starting back in 1917 Coca-Cola began its partnership with the Red Cross running annual campaigns. Right through to 2018 the partnership is still strong between the 2 organizations and has helped to enable the Red Cross’ involvement in disaster relief.
Jumping forward in history to 1966 Coca-Cola launched “The Nutrition Project” which had an aim to solve the “protein gap” between poverty-stricken nations and provide them with more protein-rich beverages. The international team of scientists and food technologists assigned to this project developed 3 protein rich beverages in Latin America using local ingredients such as soybeans and whey as ingredients for the beverages.
Near the beginning of the new millennium, Coca-Cola created a set of goals for itself to reach by the year 2020 which included water stewardship, energy and climate, packaging, agriculture, workplace and human rights, women’s economic empowerment and packaging & recycling goals. Maintaining its leadership in sustainability they have continued to gain progress on these goals and have created new ambitions as they achieve their objectives.
Although Coca-Cola has been a leader in sustainability and global stewards of this planet their impact on the environment has not gone unnoticed.
As with most soft drink manufacturers, in the early years the beverage containers were made of glass which required a large amounts of energy to form the bottles, clean and re-use the bottes and, in turn, fill the bottles. Given the costs associated with energy (electricity, coal, natural gas, etc.) earlier in the industry the high use of energy wasn’t an issue for companies to contend with. As the prices of these resources increased the need to find a less energy-intensive process to create the required packaging.
In addition to the energy costs of manufacturing this packaging glass is one of the longest-lasting man-made materials available. It takes approximately 1 million years for glass to decompose which places undue stress on our landfills and environment.
As the industry and technology progressed the goal of creating a less energy intensive and a more decomposable package by using plastic for the beverage containers was achieved, however, we also lost the ability to reuse the containers. With this inability of reuse, the soft drink industry essentially traded one issue for another. Although there was less energy being used in the manufacturing of the plastic bottles it created a major issue in the sheer amount of refuse that was ending up in landfills, or worse, in the ocean. See Figure 2.2.1 below for an image of over 2 million plastic bottles floating in the ocean.
Figure 2.2.1 – “Plastic Bottles”, 2007 by Chris Jordan
As can be seen in the high resolution blow up in Figure 2.2.2 below, there are a number of guilty manufacturers in the sea of plastic bottles, however, Coca-Cola is at the forefront of them.
Figure 2.2.2 – High Resolution blow up of “Plastic Bottles”, 2007 by Chris Jordan
As with most industrial companies, the past has been filled with reactive sustainability that was in the best interest of the company rather than the best interest of the environment. For example, the change from glass bottles to plastic bottles represented significant savings as well as an improvement to the environment, however, that’s not enough. As discussed above, as well as improving one area of their sustainability footprint they created another issue.
As with many Fortune 500 companies now, Coca-Cola has begun to realize that sustainability is more than just an improvement in the companies economical but an improvement to all humankind. These companies have started moving from a reactive to a proactive approach in the way that they are dealing with sustainability of their manufacturing and products.
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In Coca-Cola’s realization of the harm that their packaging has done to the environment, one of the latest goals that they have set for themselves is to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every bottle or can sold by 2030. By taking this step in moving towards complete recuperation of their packaging materials at a 1:1 ratio (whether it is packaging from their product or a competitor’s) it will create a different outlook than the images shown above.
In addition to this recuperation of their packaging materials at a 1:1 ratio they have also invented the 100% recyclable plantbottle®. This new packaging material is made from up to 30% plants, specifically sugarcane from Brazil and sugarcane processing waste from India rather than petroleum-based products. Since the launch of this new packaging technology Coca-Cola has eliminated the equivalent of nearly 270,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Coca-Cola has also begun sharing this packaging technology with other companies committed to more sustainable packaging including Kraft-Heinz and Ford Motor Company.
By moving forward with these initiatives Coca-Cola will leverage the strength of their marketing capabilities to motivate not only their own employees but also their consumers.
The items mentioned in this paper are not all inclusive of the efforts that Coca‑Cola has made over the years (see Appendix A for additional efforts), however, it shows that they are making an effort to support the sustainability of the environment. By pouring billions of dollars into various initiatives over the year, whether it be the research into their plantbottle® technology or by providing various recycling centres around the world, Coca-Cola has shown their devotion to the environment.
It is hard to say anything bad about Coca-Cola when it comes to sustainability and their devotion to the environment, however, moving forward, the thing that Coca-Cola could improve in their efforts is the movement towards proactive/radical thinking. The ability and effort that is being put in to correct past issues is a great start, however, if they could move to a more radical way of thinking and solve the issue before it’s an issue would create a better environment for everyone. The plantbottle® technology is a good example of radical thinking in moving towards a renewable resource for the packaging of their products but the question is, is that enough? My belief is no, there is always more that can be done and as technology progresses, so must we.
- “The McMaster Logo.” McMaster University Office of Public Relations. McMaster University, 2006. Web. 02 Mar. 2016.
- Cashdan, Emily (2017, August 18). 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Coca-Cola’s Sustainable History. Coca-Cola Company Website. Retrieved from www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-coca-cola-companys-sustainability-history
- Moye, Jay (2018, January 19). Unpacking Coke’s Bold New Sustainable Packaging Vision. Coca-Cola Company Website. Retrieved from www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/unpacking-cokes-bold-new-sustainable-packaging-vision
APPENDIX A: ADDITIONAL SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS
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