Sustainability is understood as the process of maintaining change with regard to environmental concerns. This approach encompasses the exploitation of resources, investments in lean manufacturing, and smart use of technology. Coca-Cola is one of the major players in the food industry that is trying to uphold the image of a “green company.” The question arises as to whether the brand is following through with its claims or is merely playing along to attract more customers. This paper will provide a literature review and analysis of information from general web sources and KBS library databases and prove Coca-Cola’s claims to be misleading.
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Analysis and Discussion
This year, Coca-Cola published the 2018 Business and Sustainability Report in which the company executives and visionaries expressed their commitment to global development goals. The company claims to not only work on meeting environmental objectives but also conducting a continuous assessment and readjustment of its sustainable development strategy (Coca-Cola 2018). Coca-Cola reports that sustainability remains its central focus and the backbone of its business activities (Coca-Cola 2018). Below are the three key conclusions that were drawn from the report, compared and contrasted against the official data from external sources.
In the recent past, dieticians proclaimed sugar the new arch enemy of a healthy lifestyle. Researchers have explained plausible mechanisms and gathered evidence in support of the suggestion that excessive sugar consumption leads to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and type 2 diabetes (T2DM) (Stanhope 2016). Since countries such as the US and Mexico suffer from soaring obesity rates, more people try to check sugar contents before purchasing a product (Kim et al. 2015). Coca-Cola claims to be reducing sugar across their entire portfolio that as of now, includes sparkling soft drinks, juice, dairy, and plant-based drinks, and tea and coffee beverages. The company has launched a line of products with 30% less sugar in Mexico and several other markets and reported customer satisfaction and appraisal (Coca-Cola 2018).
While Coca-Cola made a significant effort in transforming their products, it is still difficult to classify them as even remotely healthy. For instance, one can of the new Coca-Cola with Stevia covers more than one-third of recommended daily sugar intake for an adult (Stanton 2018). The other, less “dietary” products can have up to 78% of the daily sugar intake norm per can or bottle (Stanton 2018). Stevia is seen as an adequate alternative to sugar; however, it can affect good bacteria and upset the colon (Gasmalla, Yang & Hua 2014). In summation, while Coca-Cola does not lie about its attempts to reduce sugar contents, but the information is incomplete and might mislead a customer.
World Without Waste
Coca-Cola claims to be committed to making packaging waste a thing of the past. In its report, the company describes how it’s 2017 research was a turning point and a pivotal moment. Top executives realized the immense and adverse impact that Coca-Cola has on the environment and decided to make radical changes by 2030. As of now, the company envisions rendering its packaging 100% recyclable globally and using up to 50% of waste for making new products (Coca-Cola 2018). Further, Coca-Cola plans to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one sold by 2030. Lastly, the brand will also capitalize on partnership and collaboration with other companies that handle waste and offer innovative solutions. For instance, in 2018, the brand invested $15 million in Circulate Capital, a firm dedicated to incubating and funding companies that prevent plastic pollution.
The information from external sources does not show Coca-Cola in a good light. The company is far from being “green” or sustainable: according to Greenpeace, in 2017, it increased its production of plastic bottles by one billion. By 2018, the situation had barely improved as Coca-Cola on par with PepsiCo and Nestle were identified as the world’s most notorious plastic polluters (Gabbatiss 2018). However, it does not mean that what Coca-Cola reported on its official website is not valid. The company has never made claims that it solved the problem completely. As of now, it is only outlining the measures that it is going to take. It will have to prove its commitment to sustainability by realizing its ambitious plans by 2030.
The third sustainable development goal set by Coca-Cola is returning the water that it uses in manufacturing to communities. A decade ago, as it was tapping into the Indian market, the company faced much resistance from the locals who were dissatisfied with how water resources were used (Earth Talk 2018). By 2018, Coca-Cola had allegedly improved the replenishment mechanism and transformed the lives of almost 750,000 people by providing better access to drinking water (Coca-Cola 2018).
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These claims seem to be the most convoluted as a recent investigation showed that Coca-Cola is not even close to fulfilling its promises. In its report, the company actively misinforms the reader: according to MacDonald (2018), it only considers the water that goes into the bottle. The water that is used in its supply chain is not even part of the calculations even though every 0.5L of the end product requires up to 35L of pure water. Moreover, Coca-Cola is funding environmental groups that evaluate its compliance with water replenishment standards.
With the rapid industrial advancements made throughout the 20th century and even more technologies emerging over the last two decades, humankind is facing unique ecological challenges. The growing carbon footprints on par with alarming pollution rates and species extinction require sustainable solutions. Industry giants now realize their leverage, and many of them try hard to introduce more environmentally friendly methods and strategies. Coca-Cola has published a comprehensive report on its attempts to enhance sustainability, many of which upon further analysis, proved to be bogus. Sugar reduction in the company’s products is undeniable, but contents are still far from healthy. Despite optimistic claims, the company is also far from solving the issues of packaging and water waste.
When dealing with a self-report published by a large company, the reader should ignore big words and generic claims and concentrate on hard data. After key facts are identified, it can be beneficial to find national or global norms and compare if the company is compliant as in the case with sugar reduction. The reader should research beyond the context of a report (Jackson 2015). For instance, stevia is mentioned briefly by Coca-Cola with an emphasis on its advantages, but consulting outside sources can prove that disadvantages might be more significant. It is imperative to distinguish between what a company is planning to do and what it has done by now. Lastly, the reader might want to employ such concepts as virtue ethics that prescribe to see a good deed as an end and not as a means to an end (Van Hooft 2014). It may compel him or her to ask whether a company sees sustainability as an actual objective or a tool to boost its attractiveness and protect its reputation.
Coca-Cola 2018, 2018 Business & sustainability report, Web.
Earth Talk 2018, ‘Coca-Cola charged with groundwater depletion and pollution in India’, ThoughtCo, Web.
Gabbatiss, J 2018, ‘Coca-Cola and Nestle among worst plastic polluters based on global clean-ups’, The Independent, Web.
Gasmalla, MAA, Yang, R & Hua, X 2014, ‘Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni: an alternative sugar replacer and its application in food industry’, Food Engineering Reviews, vol. 6, no. 4, pp.150-162.
Jackson, SL 2015, Research methods and statistics: a critical thinking approach, Cengage Learning, Boston, MA.
Kim, E, Ahn, JA, Jang, JK, Lee, MA, Seo, SH & Lee, EJ 2015, ‘Consumer perceptions and attitudes towards reducing sugar intake’, Journal of the Korean Society of Food Science and Nutrition, vol. 44, no. 2, pp.1865-1872.
MacDonald, C 2018, ‘Inside the bad math that lets Coca-Cola say it gives back all the water it uses’, The Verge, Web.
Stanhope, KL 2016, ‘Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: the state of the controversy’, Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, vol. 53, no. 1, pp. 52-67.
Stanton, R 2018, ‘Coke has promised ‘less sugar’, but less is still too much’, The Conversation, Web.
Van Hooft, S 2014, Understanding virtue ethics, Routledge, Abingdon-on-Thames.