From its origins in an Atlanta pharmacy over 120 years ago, Coca-Cola has arguably become the most recognized brand in the world. If imitation is the sincerest source of flattery, that mix of sweet and spice has plenty of local imposters: Wuhaha’s brands are dominant in China; RC has its following in the American South; the lemon verbena variation Inka Kola has its following in Peru and among Latin American expats; and even tiny Vanuatu has its peppy version, Lava Cola. But Coca-Cola still reigns supreme at stores and cafes—and probably always will.
With such a global imprint come concerns over Coca-Cola’s carbon footprint. The days of returning glass bottles for their deposit will probably never return, but the company has made some strides. That’s not an easy task, as we are talking about a cadre of 300 companies in almost every country with a million employees. Its plastic bottles now often contain up to 30% plant-based materials; its European executives realize it must do more to encourage consumers to recycle at home; and in Okinawa, vending machines retrofitted with microphones that monitor the population of a local bird dispense cans of Coke. Now Coca-Cola is ramping up its sustainability efforts in China.
Coca-Cola China’s headquarters in Shanghai, a LEED-certified Gold building, has already given the company an eco-friendly boost. But the company pledges to do more:
- The company’s charitable commitments, which have already totaled about US$30 million, will increase, covering community and environmental projects.
- Water efficiency has improved 35% from 2004 to 2009; this year the company commits that 100% of its waste will be suitable for aquatic life. Beverage companies’ consumption of water has often made the industry a target of those concerned over global water constraints. Coca-Cola China has invested US$4.5 million in improving its operations’ water recycling and purification equipment.
- With a population of 1.3 billion or so, the accumulation of all those plastic bottles is a scary thought. To that end, the company promises improved packaging efficiency, including the reduction of the weight of its bottles, which could reduce Coca-Cola’s carbon emissions over 16,000 tons if a billion bottles are sold annually. Of course, where those bottles will go is an open question.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government, ironing out its 12th Five-Year plan (2011-2015), is pushing for overall sustainability in business and throughout society. If the Chinese are truly serious—discussions on China’s sincerity are all over the map—it will be interesting to see how Coca-Cola’s promises pan out over the next several years.