Red going Green: Coca-Cola’s Environmental Initiatives

Coca-Cola figures out how to go green.

green coke
Coke goes Green!

Getting Coke to the Customer

Consumer packaged goods companies feel the effects of climate change throughout every step of their supply chain. Take a company like Coca-Cola for example. Consider the steps involving getting Coca-Cola’s iconic namesake product, Coke, to consumers.  A large manufacturing plant must operate where ingredients, primarily consisting of sugar and water, are mixed to create the soda, the soda is bottled in plastics, glass and aluminum, and ultimately package for distribution. The Coke product, therefore, is heavily dependent on energy used to power the plant, massive amounts of water and sugar, and tonnes of plastics and paper used for bottling and packaging respectively. In recent years unprecedented droughts have significantly disrupted Coca-Cola’s abilities procure sufficient freshwater and sugar for their soda products.  Coca-Cola, seeing that their soda production was in a precarious situation due to global warming, and acknowledging that byproducts of Coke production (e.g. emissions from plants, plastic packaging and waste, and copious water usage) contributed to the acceleration of these issues began to view global warming as an economic issue and committed to sustainability in the Coke production process[1].

Coca-Cola responded to the challenge of becoming a more sustainable company by focusing on three major pillars: increasing energy inefficiency of plants, decreasing water usage, and creating environmentally friendly bottles for their soda products.

Reducing Energy Consumption

One of the first places Coca-Cola started looking for opportunities was in its plants. Producing Coca-Cola was an extremely energy intensive affair. In 2010, soda production consumed 0.57 megajoules of per liter, and produced 78.3 grams of harmful CO2 per liter[2]. With a per annum production of roughly 2 billion cases, at an average of at 5.6 liters per case, this translates to roughly 1.7 TWh of energy in 2010. To put this into perspective, according to the World Bank, the entire country of Niger (pop. 16M)  used approximately 25 TWh during that same period[3].  Similarly, in 2010 Coke production resulted in emissions of approximately 600K metric tonnes of CO2. By investing hundreds of millions into energy efficiency projects, for example, creating “Combined Heat and Power” plants at manufacturing sites in Nigeria, Coca-Cola has been able to both energy efficiency and reduce emissions by 30% over a 5 year period[1].

Water

Water was not only key as a raw material manufacturing beverages, but also heavily used through the operation process in various capacities, for example cleaning. Coca-Cola was able to mitigate water use by reducing the required of 2.3L of water per liter of Coke, to 2.0 liters of water by 2015.  However, the major reductions came via reducing the operational footprint of water usage.  Coca-Cola decided to initiate a water recycling program at the majority of their manufacturing plants.  In this scheme, Coca-Cola recycled used water for cleaning and washing bottles, treated the water, and then used it for other non-product purposes[4]. Coca-Cola initially hoped to reduce water consumption by 35% through this scheme.  The results were much more stark, and Coca-Cola was able to reduce water consumption by 64% from 51.4 Billion liters in 2004 to 18.7 liters in 2015.  

Additionally, Coca-Cola initiatives extended into local communities around manufacturing plants. In Nigeria, they began a water conservation initiative at schools aimed at teach young students about water safety and conservation[5].

The Plantbottle

Coke Plant Bottle
The Plant Bottle

Finally, Coca-Cola addressed some of the issues around its bottling.  Over 60% of Coca-Cola products are bottled in PET plastic. Although the PET plastic bottles are recyclable, only 27% of PET plastic bottles actually end up recycle. To offset the footprint of the petroleum based PET, Coca-Cola created a new bottle, “the plant bottle”, that is composed of  30% plant material and has a smaller carbon footprint[6].

The Future

Coca-Cola has done many innovative things in order to reduce its carbon footprint and operate in a more sustainable way, however, there are a couple more actions it can take to be even more effective.  The first action Coca-Cola should take is to use recycled materials.  Currently Coke bottles and cans are not made from recycled materials. The combination of recycled plastics, aluminum, and plant based bottles will help Coke greatly reduce its footprint.  The initiative should be taken in tandem with a much broader education initiative around sustainability.  As previously mentioned, only 27% of plastic bottles find their way into recycling.  As the world’s premier beverage company, Coca-Cola is partially responsible for this. Coke should create educational initiatives targeting youth the world over that focus on general sustainability and extol the values of recycling.  It can bolster the success of such a campaign by temporarily adjusting the labeling of its icon Coke bottles to spread awareness.

WC: 794

Written by Timi Okah

References

[1] New York Times, “Industry Awakens to Threat of Climate Change”, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/science/earth/threat-to-bottom-line-spurs-action-on-climate.html?_r=0, accessed Nov 2016.

[2] Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company, “2015 Integrated Annual Report”, http://coca-colahellenic.com/media/2390/coca-cola-hbc_2015-integrated-annual-report.pdf, accessed Nov 2016.

[3] World Bank, “Energy use (kg of oil equivalent per capita)”, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.USE.PCAP.KG.OE?locations=NE, accessed Nov 2016.

[4] GreenBiz, “Can Coca-Cola’s new water system be a game changer?”,

https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2012/07/19/will-coca-colas-new-water-recovery-system-be-game-changer, accessed Nov 2016.

[5] AllAfrica, Nigeria: NBC Introduces Water Conservation Clubs in Schools, http://allafrica.com/stories/201504030563.html, accessed Nov 2016.

[6] The Wall Street Journal, “Coke’s New Bottle is Part Plant”, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703672104574654212774510476, accessed Nov 2016.

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2 thoughts on “Red going Green: Coca-Cola’s Environmental Initiatives

  1. Very interesting post Timi. I do wonder how the location’s of their plants will affect their investments going into the future. For example, my guess is that the costs of water recycling outside of NYC are far greater than any benefit, compared to plants in the middle east. Are they doing anything with renewable energy as well? Its crazy how much energy they use on production, I wonder if they have significant shipping costs with their global distribution network that could lead to high carbon emissions as well. I really like your idea about coke needing to be on the forefront of recycling, especially in developing countries where recycling is not as common. Great job and very interesting read!

  2. Timi,

    I completely agree with you that being the fourth most valuable brand in the world according to Forbes [1], Coca Cola have a responsibility to increase awareness and educate the population on the recycling issue and the effects of it on climate change. It is unbelievable that only 27% of Coca Cola PET bottles end up being recycled.
    I strongly feel that is not enough to increase their plants efficiency regarding water or energy consumption. A key part of their social responsibility program should be develop initiatives to reduce waste, the waste that they have been throwing to the environment with the production of each soda.

    [1] Forbes Welcome. 2016. Forbes Welcome. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.forbes.com/powerful-brands/. [Accessed 07 November 2016].

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