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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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The Coca-Cola Company is an American corporation which focuses on the sales of their non-alcoholic concentrates and syrups. With over 60,000 employees, it is a worldwide corporation which has significant influence within the realm of Sustainability. Due to this international influence, it is important to explore how they view sustainability and how this affects their actions. In their 2016 Sustainability Report, they emphasised their aim to become ‘a growth-oriented, consumer-centred, total beverage company'. They state that they ‘remain committed to and excited about making positive and lasting social and environmental impacts across the world'. Subsequently, they focus on seven main areas; agriculture, climate protection, giving back, human and workplace rights, packaging and recycling, water stewardship, women's economic empowerment. Overall, this is a positive document which highlights the progress Coca-Cola have made in recent years to reach their 2020 goals. However, this is a short document which fails to address how they will overcome their areas of weakness. Therefore, this critical review will focus on the three pillars of Sustainability and analyse whether this organisation is addressing all areas. It will also analyse the extent to which Coca-Cola is doing this for genuine reasons, or whether they are doing the bare minimum to comply with societies wishes. From my first observations, the Report adheres to all three pillars. However, extra research is required to find out whether the progress stated in the document is accurate. As the Coca-Cola website states, the Sustainability Report ‘is a portal to a larger universe of information'.

When first looking at the Report, it is hard to find a single definition of what Sustainability is to Coca-Cola. The closest meaning of Sustainability appeared to be to ‘remain committed to and excited about making positive and lasting social and environmental impacts across the world'. The report highlights seven key areas which have progressed to help sustain the environment. The importance of using sustainable products is seen with tea and coffee now coming from 100% sustainable sources. Coca-Cola also include human and workplace rights as a crucial part of Sustainability, with one billion dollars being spent on diverse suppliers by 2020. However, this appears to be to conform to societies expectations after being forced to pay $192,5 million to settle a class action racial discrimination lawsuit (White, 2002). Consequently, it makes sense to invest money into workers' rights to create a positive image of Coca-Cola. However, whilst it is important to acknowledge the influence of society, Coca-Cola are attempting to follow strong Sustainability. Through an effort to use sustainable sources, greener packaging, reducing their Carbon footprint and replenishing water, they are emphasising the importance of ‘natural' capital and the fact that ‘human' capital cannot replace this. As Bea Perez states in her letter, Coca-Cola have achieved significant progress, but remain ‘constructively discontent' and believe there is much more to do in order to sustain the natural world (Perez, 2017).

Furthermore, Coca-Cola has a clear balance between helping humans and helping the environment. This idea was clearly influenced by the Brundtland Report (1987) which defines sustainable development as seeking ‘to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability to meet those of the future' (Development, 1987). This relates to Coca-Cola's sustainable goals as they focus on issues for humans today, without neglecting the environment and the needs of future generations. For example, the campaign ‘Our Way Forward' is focused on the health of humans, whilst making sure technological solutions are not primarily used to solve this. They are reducing sugar in their drinks, using smaller packaging and making sure their marketing is not aimed at children under 12 years of age. This also involves the environment as they want to ensure that, by 2020, all of their key ingredients are produced sustainably. In addition to this, they also have created a holistic plan called ‘A World Without Waste' which states that they want to recycle a bottle or can for every single bottle or can they produce by 2030, whilst also reducing the Carbon emissions which are involved within this process. This means that whilst they are focusing on the health of humans, they are also involving the environment by using sustainable ingredients and recycled packaging. This supports the ideas within the Brundtland Report as their actions aren't affecting the needs of future generations. Furthermore, to measure their progress they use ‘accepted and relevant scientific and technical methodologies'. They are taking this further by using an independent third party in future years to measure their impact on the environment. Consequently, this would decrease any biases or over-exaggerations in future reports.

However, to critically analyse this report we can use the three pillars model which illustrates all sections of sustainability. This focuses on the economic, social, and environmental spheres and finds areas of overlap. This model provides a platform to see if an organisation is incorporating all aspects of sustainability. Firstly, the economic sphere focuses on aspects such as reducing the carbon footprint, replenishing water, and their overall effect on the environment. As previously mentioned, the environmental sphere is emphasised in this Report. For example, they stated that by 2016 their projects had provided a replenishment benefit of 221 billion litres per year through community and watershed projects across the globe. However, in 2016 water exploitation was a serious issue for the company. A Coca-Cola plant was planned in Babai which led the residents to reject the project as it would reduce the water level of river Narmada (Patil, 2017). Due to this, it is important to question whether the numbers stated in the report are true, or whether exaggeration was used to enhance their progression.

Moreover, the social pillar is crucial to a company's success as it relies on support from employees, stakeholders, and communities. This sphere is evident in the Sustainability report in three main areas; workplace rights, giving back to the community, and women's economic empowerment. Over $106 million was donated in 2016, with 1.2% of the company's operating income being invested into local communities. They have ‘enabled' over 500,000 women in 2016, making women's economic empowerment a key focus. However, once again the report is limited as it lacks the details of how progress has been made. From wider research Coca-Cola has had to prioritise workers' rights, having been at the centre of a racial discrimination lawsuit against them in 2000 (White, 2002). Consequently, to improve their reputation, Coca-Cola have invested more into reaching societies expectations. Therefore, this leads me to question whether Coca-Cola are doing the bare minimum in order to satisfy society's needs, or whether they are doing this for genuine reasons. Personally, from the lack of detail in explaining how their goals will be reached, it appears that more effort is required to make a real impact on the social sphere.

Lastly, the economic sphere ensures that the company is making a profit and retaining economic growth. This area certainly overlaps with both the environmental and social spheres. By focusing on the environmental sphere, Coca-Cola create a good image for their company, which encourages more investments and more communities to support them. For example, The Coca-Cola Foundation has invested over $1 billion into the different areas of the social sphere since 1984. This has improved their credibility as a company, as well as gaining more support and investment from people who, in turn, by their products.

However, whilst Coca-Cola are addressing all spheres of the three pillars, it is questionable as to whether this is a Sustainability example or an example of Corporate exploitation. Whilst Coca-Cola states it is the “first Fortune 500 Company to replenish all the water it uses globally”, this organisation has come under scrutiny. For example, in 2014 Coca-Cola was forced to close down a facility within India as they were scrutinised for water exploitation (StecklowStaff, 2005). This highlighted how Coca-Cola's ‘Sustainable' actions were not always beneficial towards the communities. This put Coca-Cola in a dilemma as they are responsible to share holders so need to keep their facilities active. However, they are also under attack from local communities for not being respective of their water rights.  Consequently, it is up to Coca-Cola as to whether they pursue water-stressed areas and look elsewhere in the mean-time, or whether they preserve the rights of the locals and close operations.

In conclusion, whilst this Sustainability Report highlights the progress which Coca-Cola has made, it fails to explain in detail how further progress will be made. Although I was able to gather information to support their influence in each sphere, this required going beyond the report. It is therefore logical to question why certain information was not included. It implies that they are trying to hide their problems, specifically with water, and mask them with symbols of progress. Whilst Coca-Cola have made progress, it is important to remember that their actions are pursued to enhance Coca-Cola's image. Consequently, one would argue that this report has been done to satisfy society's demands and should be viewed with caution.  

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