Coca-Cola’s ecological footprints prior to its collaboration with TNC

 

 

The Coca-Cola Company has established the world’s most conspicuous brand in the soft drink industry. In 2013, the massive production of Coca-Cola awarded this multinational company fifth place among the world’s most valuable trademarks.[1] To secure its leading position, Coca-Cola lobbied the government and private sectors to extract raw materials for their production inputs at low costs. A 125-year environmental history of Coca-Cola shows that with the support of capitalism, this company has lead the soft drink industry as it pushes the supply of resources to the limits of sustainability.

Since Dr. John Stith Pemberton started Coca-Cola on May 8, 1886, the Coca-Cola Company succeeded in minimizing production costs by squeezing nature to its carrying capacity.[2] In 1899, the company erected a bottling franchise system relying on public pipes to supply regional markets across America. The company drained millions of gallons of water from public pipes to produce its beverage without losing a cent from its pocket thanks to a federal subsidy in the early twentieth century. Since the 1950s, Coca-Cola built partnerships with the government and industry giants, both producers and distributors, to generate the commodity surplus of raw inputs including sugar and coca leaves for its production. The company also received financial support from the federal government and international agencies to expand their bottling system all over the world.

By the mid-twentieth century, Coca-Cola was leading the world’s consumption of sugar, processed caffeine, aluminum cans, and plastic containers.[3] The company helped to contribute an enormous amount of aluminum cans and plastic bottles to landfills, which ultimately polluted underground freshwater in America. Coca-Cola’s mass production methods and use of high-fructose corn syrup required an intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides on monocrop fields for corn production. Moreover, the Coca-Cola Company released tons of waste into waterways and natural habitats, which imposed the environmental externalities of soda production onto society.

Towards the 1980s and 1990s, the production of Coca-Cola experienced some downfall due to the depletion of natural capital. In addition, public criticism towards the company’s footprint made the company decide to promote sustainability. The company started to partner with environmental organizations like The Nature Conservancy. Prior to its commitment to corporate sustainability, Coca-Cola’s environmental history exemplified why conservationists should help corporations change the economic model and encourage proactive solutions to mitigate environmental crises.

[1] Elmore, Bartow J. “Citizen Coke: An Environmental and Political History of the Coca-Cola Company”. Business History Conference. 2013: doi:10.1093/es/kht085.

[2] “The Chronicle of Coca-Cola: Birth of a Freshing Idea”, The Coca-Cola Company, last modified Jan 1, 2012, http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/the-chronicle-of-coca-cola-birth-of-a-refreshing-idea/

[3] Ibid, p718.

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