In this week’s Economist magazine, there is an article entitled “In hot water: The world’s biggest drinks firm tries to fend off its green critics” which tells the story Coca-Cola and their attempt to respond to green critics by protecting their brand image. When large brands, such as Coca-Cola, are subject to bad press, they must overcome the tarnished image by reinventing themselves or addressing the very issue that caused them the bad press. Coca-cola’s manager of environmental affairs, believes that, “water is to Coca-Cola as clean energy is to BP”, but BP took the strategy of reinventing themselves from an oil company to an energy company and Coca-cola is attempting to address their water complaint issues by releasing an environmental report which discusses and explains their new global water strategy.
Coca-cola’s company mission is “to benefit and refresh everyone it touches”. Amrit Srivastava of the India resource Centre believes that their mission is in conflict with their actions, and has launched a campaign against Coca-Cola because of their activities in India.
Some of the firm’s bottling plants in India tap into scarce water sources that significantly reduce the water levels for villagers. In scarce areas, these reduced water levels can mean life or death. If the goal is to refresh everyone, and they are using 3.72 liters (2002) in order to produce 1 liter of their final product then they are not delivering on their promise. In an effort to protect their brand, Coca-cola has put resources towards reducing their required water down to 2.72 liters for every liter of final product, but people such as Mr. Srivastava are not impressed. Mr Seabright is attempting to counter and contain the backlash to his brand by publishing a report that explains Coca-Cola’s new effort to assess the “water risks to its businesses and local communities”. Part of the effort boasts that Coca-Cola will make use of rainwater harvesting and offset all of the water it uses by 2006. Ideally, in order to really deliver on its promise, Coca-Cola can operate all over the world and nullify its impact on local resources.
Corporate Accountability International (CAI) has a complaint about Coca-Cola’s bottled water offering. So far, Mr Seabright has not addressed this complaint in his latest report. Even though there is already a market for bottled water, CAI is targeting Coca-cola’s bottling and selling of water because they feel it sets a bad precedent by “commodifying something that should not be bought or sold”. Given the increasing concern and awareness around the privatization of water, CAI’s complaint is very relevant. While there are doubts about Coca-Cola’s ability to fully deliver on its brand promise, the world is hopeful that they can keep refreshing everyone in spite of the increasing global demands on a limited supply of water.