July 11, 2000
COKE CAN MAKE ENVIRONMENT SMILE
Edwin R. Stafford and Cathy L. Hartman - Special
Coca-Cola is to be commended for its recent
announcement that the company will phase out all cold
drink equipment using global warming
hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as refrigerants or insulation
by the 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games.
Chairman Douglas Daft declared that the company
would expand its research to test environmentally safer
refrigeration alternatives and require suppliers to use
only HFC-free appliances and equipment that are at
least 40 percent more energy efficient than today's
standards. Although the announcement was made with
little fanfare, its impact will be profound, catalyzing a
greener future for refrigeration.
Daft's decision comes in response to environmental
watchdog Greenpeace's charges that, as a 2000 Sydney
Olympics sponsor, the soft drink maker was breaking
the "Green Games" environmental guidelines
prohibiting HFCs at Olympic sites.
Over the past decade, Greenpeace has crusaded to
eradicate HFCs and other ozone depleting and global
warming chemicals from the refrigeration industry.
Greenpeace helped draft the Sydney Olympic's HFC-
free environmental guidelines, which formed an
integral part of that city's bid to serve as host.
To date, however, the Sydney Olympic Coordination
Authority has not enforced its mandate, and Greenpeace
has turned to pressuring key Olympic sponsors directly
to adopt HFC-free chillers for serving their foods and
beverages. Greenpeace published an expose describing
Coca-Cola as a "dirty Olympic sponsor" last April.
Greenpeace credits Coca-Cola's change of heart to its
new chairman's management style. Daft has been
reaching out to those who have been disenfranchised by
the soft drink maker in recent years under his more
contentious predecessor, M. Douglas Ivester. In the
wake of a variety of corporate missteps, including a
tainted Coke scare in Europe last year and racial and
morale problems at home, Daft is attempting to restore
goodwill with governments, investors, employees and
Building bridges to the environmental community to
restore Coke's reputation appears to be a priority.
Coca-Cola's HFC decision could be the most important
legacy of Sydney's Green Olympic Games. What is so
remarkable is how a large, established firm can become
an environmental maverick and send shock waves
through an industry.
Greenpeace's cooperative activism has paid off for both
the environment and its corporate allies. Since 1993, the
campaign has created markets to help sell over 40
million "greenfreeze" refrigerators. Greenfreeze is now
the dominant technology in Europe, and it has made
significant inroads in China, India and other developing
nations. North America, however, has been holding out.
Appliance manufacturers and the chemical industry
have resisted greenfreeze because it is a threat to
profits. Greenfreeze is composed of existing propane
and isobutane gases, which are in the public domain
and cost about one-twentieth the price of HFCs. The
chemical industry has also sounded the alarm about
greenfreeze's potential flammability. Safety isn't really
the issue, however, since the amount of gas for a
domestic refrigerator is about twice of what is
contained in a cigarette lighter. Much greater fire
hazards can be found in most kitchens in the form of
Coca-Cola's requiring suppliers and distributors to
adopt all new HFC-free chillers by 2004 will drive
innovation and initiate a domino effect to topple North
America's HFC regime.
The public needs to keep Coca-Cola to its word,
however. The company has reneged on its
environmental pledges in the past, including a 1990
promise to use 25 percent recycled plastic in its bottles.
Only this past April did Coca-Cola commit to 10
percent recycled plastic for this year. Daft has the
opportunity to continue positioning his company as an
environmental maverick so the world can enjoy a Coke
and a greener and cleaner future.
Edwin R. Stafford and Cathy L. Hartman are marketing
professors at Utah State University.
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