Coca Cola’s Sustainability and a Smile (They MUST Be Kidding)

by Marianne Richmond on February 27, 2008


As Mary Hunt noted in a post few weeks ago, the most effective way for companies to get their green message across is to keep the message simple, personal and viable. Show {one’s} green side in a distinctive way and be ready to back it up.According to Ad Age Coca-Cola has launched a new $10 million green campaign that “broadens the definition beyond environmentalism, centering on the concept of “sustainable well-being.”

Ad Age states that the initial executions present Coke as a corporate concerned citizen who tries to meet consumer needs and support local education and sports. An unnamed Coca Cola spokesperson is quoted as saying, “We’re thinking of well being from a mental, physical community and environmental perspective that encompasses every part of our North American business. We’re using this to talk to all of our stakeholders and show our desire to be a better partner to all of them.”

Well the message IS simple and personal enough; but when you start talking viable and prove it, the new campaign as described in Ad Age seems to fall as flat as last night’s forgotten Coke can. Now Coke is on the 2008 Global100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World.

But Coke’s Dasani along with Pepsi’s Aquafina have had their hands slapped for promoting their respective bottles waters as something far beyond the tap water (or purified water sourced from the public water supply) that it turned out was their source. In fact both companies were forced into voluntarily labeling. A recent description of Dasani Plus described it as a vitamin enhanced flavored water beverage. Water beverage? Oh, like cheese food.

And while we are thinking about well being, do you think Diet Coke Plus with five essential vitamins and minerals and the great taste of Diet Coke is leveraging the concept of “sustainable well being” or is it just simply passive aggressive. Is this how we show our desire to be a better partner?

Coke also states in Ad Age that they were motivated to do this campaign because their customers were asking them where they stood on sustainability. Well, Coke is not alone. Consumer demand is driving both the introduction of sustainable products based upon sustainable standards as highlighted on this blog as well as a he introduction and re-labeling of many not so really sustainable products.

What I think is noteworthy about this campaign in addition to the $10mm price tag is the fact that Coke’s definition of sustainable which “broadens the definition beyond environmentalism, centering on the concept of “sustainable well-being’ is not all that different than for instance the Brundtland Commission.

Bob Bailey , Chief Fund Underwriting Officer for Commericial Business at Fireman’s Fund refers to SMaRT Standards for Sustainability as being the holistic benchmark that speaks to areas of control and concern beyond the environmental impact of the product itself. Coke has a holisitc approach in a sense but the emphasis is not on the environment at all.
What is different is that Coke is highlighting their “good deeds” which are not necessarily environmental good deeds which leaves the impression that they are trying to wrap themselves in green yet divert attention from what they are really doing. They may have committed to recycle 100% of their aluminum cans but they are still filling those cans with such oxymorons as vitamin enhanced Diet Coke.

So, Coke’s green message in a way is everything but green.

(Aside, I am such a committed Coke drinker myself that when it was announced that Coke was going to be replaced by New Coke I began hording the old stuff….just to say I am not biased against them; love the stuff, no vitamins necessary but wish they would spend the $10mm walking instead of talking.)

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