Blogs & Comment

Does the environment go better with Coke?

The Olympic torch made its way into the locked-down confines of Canadian Businessthe other day, courtesy of Dave Moran, the communications director at Coca-Cola Ltd. First things first: yes, the torch looks like a large silver doobie (hey, its Vancouver, what did you expect?), but the folks at Coke are betting it will bring green thoughts of another kind.
Were the first Olympic sponsor to ever say were going to be carbon neutral, says Moran. Were the first to say were going to be waste neutral. He hopes those commitments will resonate with people attending or watching the Vancouver games this winter. It will certainly have to with those people who want to carry the torch as its carried across the country.
Coca-Cola is selecting torchbearers based on their self-described environmental friendliness, whether thats a commitment to increased recycling, energy and water conservation or sustainability. You can nominate yourself at The cost of the torch relay is about $31 million, according to the Olympic organizing committee, and is funded by Coca-Cola, RBC and other corporate sponsors.
But lets back up a second. How can a consumer goods company possibly be carbon neutral even for a single event? Coca-Cola will be selling its products on-site so that requires coolers, trucks and manufacturingall of which emit plenty of carbon into the atmosphere.
Moran agrees that Coca-Cola cannot have zero impact. The company is bringing in energy efficient coolers, using hybrid trucks and employees will wear 15,000 pieces of clothing (everything except shoes and underwear) made from polyethylene terephthalate or PET materials. But post-Games, Coca-Cola will get a third-party audit of its environmental footprint and then buy Gold Standard offsets (those with both social and environmental benefits) with the help of WWF-Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation.
We knew that if we were going to reach out to Canadians and ask what commitment they were making to the environment, that we needed to demonstrate the kind of leading-edge efforts that were willing to go through to make sure our efforts justify that call to action, says Moran.
Determining what its footprint actually will be is made easier by the fact that the Games is a closed environment so Coca-Colaalong with an outside environmental expertare able to figure out exactly how many coolers and trucks they will be using, as well as employee travel and other activities.
Whats in it for Coca-Cola? A chance to highlight some of the environmental activities theyre already doing, says Moran. It should be pointed out that many of those activities are actually good for the companys bottom line as well. Using lightweight packaging means less money spent on raw materials; making plastic bottles using 30% plant waste material cuts down on the need for new plastic; and accessing easily available clean water also cuts costs.
Thats not to take anything away from what Coca-Cola is doing. It should see a return on its investment in the environment, whether thats through lower costs or more marketing visibility. Being greenor being seen to be greenis still a good business move despite everyones preoccupation with the economy.
A global climate change expert talked to us in the fall and said that the smartest investment you can make, especially in tough economic climes, is in energy conservation because the ROI is guaranteed, says Moran. You put in cost-efficient lighting, you know how much youll save. When you have that insurance of ROI on your investment, you make those investments.
Of course, theres always the fear consumers will tune out if every company starts championing their green efforts. But Moran believes consumers are sophisticated enough to tell if companies are getting real results or whether the promise outweighs reality. Well see if thats true at the finish line at Vancouver 2010 and beyond.