Pepsi’s Dream Machine: Marketing Gimmick or Environmental Stewardship?

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Eric Irvine

When I was a kid, my brother and I used to collect cans and save them until we thought we’d have enough money to cash in big time. And by big time, I mean $5.  Recycling seemed like a pretty simple process; we’d go to the grocery store where there would be a Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) and we’d toss everything in one-by-one, wait to get the receipt and then cash out with one of the checkers. Our motivation was simple – Money.  At the time, we didn’t know of any other benefits to recycling aside from the fact that it put some change in our pockets.

Fast forward to 2011, and the situation has done a complete 180.  I know many benefits of recycling; however, there isn’t an RVM to be found. At least that’s what I thought, as I haven’t seen one in years.  It turns out that they’re huge now, especially in Europe, and various companies, Pepsi in particular, have realized the potential that RVMs hold and are taking full advantage.

On Earth Day in 2010, Pepsi unveiled a campaign that it calls the Dream Machine, an initiative that utilizes the popular RVMs and rewards recyclers with points that he/she can use at, a website that helps consumers track their recycling and stay informed on environmental issues.  In addition to directing people to Greenopolis, Pepsi has donated $500K and will continue to donate a small sum for each container recycled, to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EVB), an organization that offers special business training to post 9/11 war veterans.

Since the program’s inception, there have been approximately 3,000 Dream Machine RVMs distributed across the nation, all part of Pepsi’s plan to increase the recycling rate in the United States from 34% to 50% by 2018. Pretty ambitious if you ask me, but Pepsi has been intelligent about the way it promoted its initiative. Along with the EBV, Pepsi has also enlisted the help of students by making it into an uber-interactive competition amongst elementary schools across the country.

While I do appreciate the effort being put forth on the part of Pepsi to support the wounded veterans of our armed forces, and to increase awareness of recycling across the country, especially engraining it in the minds of our youth, my question is whether or not it is being done for the right reason.  Does Pepsi care about the environment and those who have bravely served our country, or has Pepsi simply seen an opportunity on which they are hoping to capitalize? I’d say both.

Pepsi is encouraging our citizens, the youth in particular, to recycle more in order to accumulate more stuff, Pepsi products presumably.  While I understand that people need incentive to take action (my brother and I needed $5), will offering rewards and deals to those that take part in the Dream Machine really help increase the recycling rate in the U.S. by 16% over the next seven years? Too soon to tell at this point. I sure hope so.

4 responses

  1. To address some of the questions at the end of this post, most manufacturers who use recycled PET want more of it. That’s one of Pepsi’s motivations, to get more of this valuable material. And from Greenopolis’ point of view, we are looking to triple recycling rates by 2020. Thga’ts why we are providing the software, hardware and systems for the Dream Machines, Recycle Rally and all of our scan@ programs. We are trying to make recycliong commonplace, expected and easy. We’re doing this by focusing on brand and location based recycling,where people live, work, learn and play and fostering “social” recycling-through the Greenopolis website, our FaceBook and Twitter fans, our Oceanopolis game and more. 98% of all gold ever mined is still in circulation. Why not shoot for those rates with PET, aluminum, glass, HDPE and all materials? Saves energy, conserves habitat, avoids the mine and oil well, creates more jobs, even improves our national security as we conserve resources.

    Dream Machines are a step in the right direction. Failure to do something good because it’s not perfect ensures that we get nowhere. PepsiCo, Greenopolis and other brands large and small are taking steps in the right direction. Each on is a drop in the bucket. But the drops are filling the bucket…

  2. I am trying to interprete this marketing tool. Would they install on a all coke location OR is this a marketing tool to sell more Pepsi ( i.e. – cheaper shaver to sell more blades).

  3. Well it would appear time has revealed the truth. Of The “dream machines” installed with great fanfare, over half are inoperable. Pepsi and the local politicians got the credit while leaving the installation site responsible for the expensive maintenance and repair of these re branded Envipco machines…

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