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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 Greenopolis.com, 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.

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