In 1932 Coca-Cola was extolling consumers to taste its “ice-cold sunshine.” After 129 years of selling carbonated soft-drink, one of the world’s largest companies has realized that consumers downing 1.8 billion of their beverages daily in 200 country’s comes with a wider responsibility. When that same sunshine becomes more associated with drought and global warming, it’s time to rethink your marketing slogan… and your business model.
The Chief Sustainability Officer of Coca-Cola, Be a Perez (pictured above), attended the COP21 Climate conference in Paris recently, and joined 150 world leaders in negotiating our shared fate. The mood was far from the feel-good you get from cracking open a cold beverage on a hot day and there was a sense that no individual, company or government alone had the solution. As Perez explained, all companies and individuals have a duty to examine more closely how we produce and consume if we are to have a brighter future. Part of her passion for sustainability is closer to home – raising her own children and realizing that she must be mindful of what kind of world she will leave for them one day.
“It’s critical that business comes together with governments, civil society and NGOs to discuss solutions for climate change,” she says. “This issue is about future generations and we should be thinking seriously about how we protect the air and the water for them.”
Yet, as we’ve seen at the COP21 conference in Paris and others, part of the problem is that many people express good intentions, but without clear guidelines it’s hard to create detailed plans and put them into action. For all the goodwill that exists among consumers, who are more willing than ever to embrace change, how do we turn these words into global action?
“It’s important that this discussion is happening in the first place,” says Perez. “But you need goals that can be measured and tracked,” says Perez. “In 2013 we set a goal of reducing the carbon in our products by 25 percent. This affected our carbon footprint across the entire distribution chain.”
Coca-Cola has gone beyond the fizzy content in their trademarked red and white cans and developed plant-based packaging, eliminating the need for fossil fuels. At last count, this affected 35 billion packages around the world. “In addition, we have thought about our supply chains, and installed hybrid engines in our trucks,” says Perez. “On an even broader level, we want to examine the point where agriculture, water and energy efficiency meet – to examine how best we manage sustainability.”
Perez intents to monitor and track these goals annually for Coca Cola and then see how they stack up against an even bigger goal – the Sustainable Development Goals – adopted in September 2015 with the aim of ending poverty and protecting the planet over the next 15 years. Recognizing that the fate of all people and nations are linked, the United Nations has called for everyone to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society, and yes, even people like us.
Despite all the talk and pledges, it all comes down to money at the end of the day. Many business leaders question how they can find the extra cash to change supply chains and introduce new ways of thinking – that sometimes involve the painful process of letting your less visionary employees go. The good news is that most major companies have now realized that going green actually saves money. And there’s no greater motivator than money.
“It does require an investment in people’s time and energy, and some funding, to put sustainable practices in place,” says Perez. “We’ve changed much of our equipment because we know we can save money. We now have 1.8 million HFC-free cooling machines and 5.6 million energy management systems in place.” The damaging affects of CFC coolant gases on our ozone layer was well-known in the 1980s, with it’s replacement, HFC, being added to the list of harmful gases at the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The energy management systems Coca-Cola developed has improved energy efficiencies by 35 percent. Coca-Cola has not just saved money for themselves, but also millions of dollars for their customers too. With a can of Coca-Cola officially available in every country in the world, except for North Korea and Cuba, that’s a lot of refrigeration – and a lot of electricity saved. The benefits of research and development in new technologies has paid off.
Perez never sought the title of Chief Sustainability Officer, the opportunity arose when CEO Muhtar Kent told her about it being available. “This is not work for me,” she states. “It’s a fortunate combination of passion and purpose, and I truly believe we can make a difference in the world.”
The company’s campaign slogan for 2016 is “Always real.” It’s a multi-edged slogan that plays on early campaigns that position the permanence of the brand and its global appeal. With Perez at the helm, it takes on a more meaningful interpretation. While some may think it alludes to the closely guarded Coca-Cola recipe that is never altered, we can now assume that it means keeping a reality check on where we’re all headed as a species.