Earlier this week, Coca-Cola released its 2012/2013 Sustainability Report, which outlined progress the global beverage giant has made in the areas of water conservation and restoration, supporting sustainable community initiatives and empowering female entrepreneurs around the world.
We caught up with Coke’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Bea Perez, for more on the company’s progress to date and the work that’s left to be done.
Congratulations on replenishing 52 percent of the water used in your finished beverages and their production! Could you comment on the ROI of the community water projects (those 468 projects in 94 countries)? Have those projects, as a whole, brought on extra costs, or have they generated savings/profit for the company overall?
To reach this goal, we work with partners large and small, local and global around the world in the communities we serve. Reaching 52% could not have been achieved without our project partners. There are costs associated with this initiative, and over the past six years our Coca-Cola System (the Company and our 200+ bottling partners) and project partners have collectively invested approximately $260MM in communities and watersheds around the world. We view the ROI from these projects through the lens of how they benefit the people, communities and watersheds where they are implemented. So in addition to the quantified volume of water benefit, we value the human health (i.e., WASH) and environmental (i.e., improved watersheds) benefits these projects provide. We know that over the long term, our customers and the consumers that enjoy our products will appreciate the water we use in our products being balanced in this way. The ROI also includes risk-reduction for communities, watersheds and business, as many of these projects support restoring a more sustainable balance between water supply and demand.
For the remaining 48 percent of all water used in your finished beverages and their production, what are the biggest challenges you are facing in replenishing? How much does that vary by geography?
We are continuously co-creating a project pipeline with our partners to deliver full balance of the water we use in our global sales volume by 2020. A key focal point for us going forward is keeping completed projects in productive service after they are fully implemented. Meaning, they have a plan to be sustained for or by the communities in which they are operating.
14 billion fully recyclable PlantBottle packages across more than 24 countries since that program began — that's impressive. Could you comment on the rate of collection for recycling? Do you think Ekocycle or other related initiatives will move the needles significantly?
The beauty of PlantBottle is that it is PET and recycles just like any other PET bottle. This was by design. We’ve invested human and financial resources over the years to develop recycling technologies and support recycling infrastructure and launch PlantBottle with the vision of further supporting these efforts.
Yes, moving the needle means having more consumer engagement when they are finished with their beverage/package. EKOCYCLE and related initiatives have that focus by helping consumers understand the value of recycling — that what they may think is waste is truly valuable material. As will.i.am puts it, “Waste is only waste if we waste it.”
What specific measures have you taken to not market to children under 12 anywhere in the world? How can you ensure there is adherence in every market, globally?
We’re committed to responsible marketing across the globe, across advertising media and across all our beverages, especially when children are present.
For more than 50 years, The Coca-Cola Company and its local bottlers have had a policy in the United States to not advertise our sparkling beverages on television programming directly targeted to children under the age of 12. In 2008, we strengthened our policy and helped to lead the development and adoption of similar guidelines by the International Food & Beverage Alliance and the International Council of Beverage Associations. Part of our commitment under these guidelines is to ensure and report compliance. Accenture was hired as an independent third party to undertake the review. The first report was published in November 2009 and it confirmed a high rate of compliance. The reports are available online at http://www.icba-net.org and https://www.ifballiance.org.
In 2013, as part of our global effort to help address obesity, we re-affirmed our commitment to responsible marketing. Across the Coca-Cola system, in more than 200 countries worldwide, we will not market to children 12 and under, who make up 35 percent of a television, radio, print or online audience, and that includes mobile devices.
Responses to your recent Coming Together marketing campaign indicate there are quite a few consumers and nutrition experts out there who, despite your steps towards fewer calories and transparent nutrition information, claim that the elephant in the room — sweeteners — has not been addressed sufficiently. In retrospect, do you think that 'a calorie is a calorie' was an oversimplification that needs more work?
Obesity is a serious and complex global health challenge that affects people in communities large and small around the world. As the World Health Organization states, the “fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.” People consume many different foods and beverages, so no one single food or beverage alone is responsible for people being overweight or obese. All calories count, whatever food or beverage they come from, including those from our caloric beverages. In fact, the American Dietetic Association stated that all foods and beverages can have a place in a sensible, balanced diet that is combined with regular physical activity. We agree that balance is the key here, and that’s one of the reasons why we provide 800 low- and no-calorie beverage options while also supporting hundreds of physical activity programs across nearly 120 countries. There’s more work to do, and we’re committed to being part of the solution.