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Phil Covington headshot

Coca-Cola Issues 2013 GRI Report

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola released their 2012/13 sustainability report, the company's third GRI report, reporting against 35 key performance indicators which they say is the most comprehensive one so far.

The new report outlines Coke's 2020 Sustainability Commitments, under their "Me, We, World" framework. These respectively represent a focus on enhancing personal well-being, building stronger communities, and protecting the environment.

The chairman of the board, Muhtar Kent, outlines in his letter accompanying the report that, "there are no issues that will more shape or define the 21st century than the global empowerment of women, the management of the world's precious water resources, and the well-being of the world's growing population." Here are some of the key highlights from the report in line with these issues.

The global empowerment of women is addressed by Coca-Cola's 5by20 initiative - the company's goal of enabling the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across their global value chain by 2020. This focus stems from a recognition that women constitute a critical role in Coke's global system - citing for example, that in the Philippines, women own or operate more than 86 percent of small neighborhood stores that sell the company's products, and that in developing countries, half of all farmers are women. The program offers women three key areas of assistance beginning with business skills training, loans and financial services, and peer networks and mentoring. Coca-Cola's report announces that as of the end of 2012, the company has enabled approximately 300,000 women in 22 countries - more than double the number of participants compared with 2011.

Promoting personal well-being, another of Coca-Cola's three focus areas, is a potentially tricky one for a company that is known for selling sugary drinks around the globe, often causing them blame for contributing to a global obesity epidemic. Coke's GRI report doesn't shy away from the problem of obesity, though perhaps somewhat defensively states their disagreement with the notion that sweetened beverages like Coca-Cola are a primary cause of increased obesity rates. On the other hand, they do correctly state that a scientific consensus asserts that weight gain is a result of a calorie imbalance problem - caused when more calories are consumed than expended, and on that point, concede that all calories (even theirs) count.

Consequently, Coke details substantive goals to help address the problem. These include offering no-, or low-calorie beverage options in every global market, providing front-of-pack calorie information on all products, and committing to sponsoring at least one physical activity program in every country in which they operate. All of these efforts are a work-in-progress and are moving forward. For example, in San Francisco, the company helped 1,600 youths aged between 5 and 17 to experience outdoor recreation opportunities they may not otherwise have received, including biking, skateboarding, rock climbing and water sports. The report details many more such efforts around the world.

Results from their well-being goals are starting to bear fruit. Coke says the average number of calories per serving has decreased by 9 percent globally since 2000, and that in 2012, they supported 290 active healthy living programs in 118 countries around the world.

Notable, too, is the company's commitment to responsible marketing guidelines. These include their global policy to refrain from buying advertising directly targeted at audiences who are comprised of more than 35 percent of children under the age of 12, across all media platforms - print, radio, TV and Internet. Additionally, the company commits to refrain from commercially advertising or offering their beverages in primary schools. Whether or not these standards go far enough, you can decide. Nonetheless, they are audited by a third party to ensure compliance and stem from the company's recognition that parents are best equipped to decide what is best for their children.

Addressing the environment, water stewardship is highlighted as a key goal for the company. By 2020, Coca-Cola has set a target of safely returning to communities and nature, an amount of water equal to that which they use in their finished beverages and in their production. This is a work-in-progress, and the company estimates that to date they have replenished 52 percent of the water used in their beverages and production via 468 community water projects in over 100 countries. In addition, water use efficiency has improved in product manufacture by 21.4 percent since 2004.

Beyond water use as an environmental concern, Coca-Cola is also striving to improve sustainable packaging through both material choices and recycling efforts. By 2015, the company has set a target to recover 50 percent of the equivalent bottles and cans sent to market annually, and to date they estimate they are achieving this at a rate of 39 percent.

A key driver in improving packing materials is Coca-Cola's goal of implementing PlantBottle technology for all of their PET packaging by 2020. PlantBottle packaging is promoted in the report as a way to significantly reduce the CO2 footprint in their manufacture, while being fully recyclable, too. So far, the company estimates that PlantBottle packaging, - made from up to 30 percent renewable plant-based materials - has already saved the equivalent of 300,000 barrels of oil, translating into a savings of approximately 130,000 metric tons of CO2. The company has shipped more than 15 billion PlantBottles to date.

Going forward, Coca-Cola has set a goal to reduce the carbon footprint of "the drink in your hand" by 25 percent and to sustainably source key agricultural ingredients by 2020. Some of the steps being taken include such things as improving the mix of reusable energy use in bottling facilities worldwide, and making energy efficiency improvements in manufacturing. For example, the company reports an 18 percent improvement in energy use since 2004, as well as rolling out more than 750 alternative-fuel delivery vehicles in the USA.

Coca-Cola's comprehensive 91 page GRI report can be read in full here.

Phil Covington headshotPhil Covington

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.

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