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The Problem with Coca Cola Enterprises’ ‘Don’t Waste, Create’ Campaign

Raz Godelnik
| Friday September 6th, 2013 | 2 Comments

Coca Cola EnterprisesHearing about Coca Cola Enterprises’ (CCE) new sustainability initiative in the UK designed to boost the reuse and recycling of plastic bottles, my expectations were pretty high. After all, CCE, the largest Coca-Cola bottler in Western Europe, is known to be taking sustainability seriously and is even considered one of the leaders in exploring consumer behavior change.

Therefore I hoped the ‘Don’t Waste, Create’ campaign would be strong, maybe even as progressive and exciting as CCE’s ‘Recycle for the Future’ study, wherein the company teamed up with university researchers to closely observe the dynamics that drive waste disposal and recycling in the homes of 20 French and English families.

Unfortunately I was dead wrong. If ‘Recycle for the Future’ was all about the future of using brand marketing to encourage recycling, ‘Don’t Waste, Create’ campaign is all about the past and not necessarily in a good way.

In fairness, maybe my expectations of CCE were too high in the first place because of its impressive track record, but please read the following description of the campaign and tell me if it doesn’t have a ‘90s feel to it:

“The ‘Don’t Waste. Create’ campaign will encourage consumers to use their waste packaging at home in a fun and useful way, while also pledging to recycle… By asking parents to submit their recycling ‘pledges’, the initiative aims to educate and inform families about the importance of recycling, while also suggesting activities that allow them to reconnect with nature and keep their families entertained during the summer holidays. ‘Don’t Waste. Create’ idea sheets will be available for parents to download at home …Suggested ideas include a bottle bird feeder or self-watering bottle plant pot. After the activities have been completed, households are encouraged to recycle their creations once they are no longer needed.”

The online campaign, which began last month and runs through September is also accompanied with in-store activities at Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s largest supermarket chain, although the website doesn’t give much detail about the partnership. And there are also rewards – in return for pledging to recycle, customers receive a voucher for 80 cents off  their next purchase of a 2-liter bottle of a Coke product, and also have the chance to win “a family ‘glamping’ holiday in France.”

Trying to figure out what CCE had in mind when thinking about this campaign, I read the explanation from Nick Brown, Associate Director for Recycling at Coca-Cola Enterprises: “CCE is committed to reducing plastic waste and helping our customers to re-think how they dispose of their packaging. By asking them to re-use and then recycle plastic bottles, ‘Don’t Waste. Create’ encourages families to think more sustainably while having fun, giving them a tangible way to help reduce their household waste.“

This is where I got even more confused. CCE is a company involved in a number of innovative and challenging initiatives, from participating in the UK soft drinks industry’s effort to reduce its carbon emissions to Continuum Recycling, a recycled-PET joint venture with ECO Plastics that processed 500 million bottles in its first year of operation. In addition, CCE has committed to recycling more packaging than it uses by 2020 and generally demonstrates a clear understanding of where it can really make a difference (energy and climate change and sustainability packaging and recycling).

So I couldn’t help but wonder how such a company believes that providing customers with instructions on how to make a bottle bird feeder or a bottle plant pot from empty Coke bottles will encourage them “to think more sustainably while having fun, giving them a tangible way to help reduce their household waste?”

While some might argue the answer is that this campaign isn’t really about encouraging customers to recycle more Coke bottles but rather about encouraging them to buy more Coke, I believe this is just an example of a poorly designed campaign. Why? First, because it’s not clear if the ‘remedy’ the campaign offers (make recycling fun) actually relates to the reasons behind the low at-home recycling rates  in the UK, and second, the ‘fun’ component in the campaign doesn’t seem to be utilizing game thinking and elements very well.

Looking at the issues explored in CCE’s observational study it’s not clear if the ‘fun’ factor has anything to do with the low recycling rates in British households (half of plastic bottles in the UK are not collected for recycling and most of them are thrown away at home). Some of the issues mentioned include consumers’ need for more information about recycling and the recycling infrastructure. Over 30 percent of people in the UK believe collected materials are not recycled.

Nevertheless, as Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter write in their book “For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business,” fun is an extraordinarily valuable tool to address serious business pursuits. That also includes customer engagement and sustainability. Yet, in this case, the game thinking, which according to Werbach and Hunter is the mind-set required to deploy fun in a considered and directed way, is lacking.

Werbach makes the case that a well-gamified system includes all three basic elements of intrinsic motivation: competence (overcoming challenges), autonomy (being in control and having options), and relatedness (sense of purpose or goals). In other words, he says, if you use this elements properly it results in participants having fun. Is this the case here? I doubt it.

While the campaign is loosely connected to these three elements, it is really far from mastering them. Just compare it to Heineken’s six pack design challenge or think what would this campaign look like if it was based on a competition on the best idea for reusing a Coke bottle with the backup of a smart platform like Club Psych – that could really be fun, right?

[Image credit: Coca-Cola Enterprises Limited (CCE)]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and Parsons The New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.

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  • Kevin McGinnis

    You can look at this campaign in two ways- either a selfless act by coca cola to encourage people to recycle or a way to get people to buy more coca cola and then recycle whatever they drank it out of. As terrible as a campaign this is, I think people need to buy into this recycling is fun and cool thing which, although it might not help a a lot, it certainly wont hurt.

  • Claire

    Hi Raz–Always enjoy your writing. Thanks for the article. Agree that this feels very “Nice to Have,” doesn’t it, and not up to the standards CCE’s set in the past. Almost as is it was a summer intern project that isn’t aligned with the company’s overall Sustainability strategy.

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