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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Written by Timi Okah
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