BEA Perez, the Coca-Cola Company’s Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO), shared her thoughts on the “circular economy” at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of New Champions (AMNC) session as a panelist on how businesses are shaping the future of consumption. Perez introduced how Coca-Cola is advancing its global sustainability strategy to help grow its business while also making a lasting, positive difference for consumers, communities and the environment.
These efforts come as the world enters a Fourth Industrial Revolution, which was also the theme of the AMNC 2016, also known as Summer Davos 2016.
As one of the key sessions of AMNC, a panel discussion focused on how systemic changes, strategic shifts and emerging technologies are transforming the future of consumption. It addressed various transformations including sustainable consumption, hyper-customization strategies and the integration of the digital and physical worlds.
Unlike the traditional linear economy of “take-make-waste,” Coca-Cola has committed to extracting the utmost value from every resource, which not only aids in environmental sustainability, but also maximizes their value.
“The circular economy is to reuse, recycle and replenish the things we love the most, while maintaining quality,” said Perez. “But how do you actually change the model to re-generating, reusing, and recycling? The new model of the circular economy, or circular thinking, is to turn waste into value and move away from the ‘take-make-waste model’.”
Coca-Cola acknowledges that its business is only as sustainable as the communities it serves and therefore sustainability is at the core of its operations. This has led to a focus on areas that present the most opportunities for supporting a circular economy: packaging, water resources and sustainable agriculture practices.
All Coca-Cola bottles and cans are recyclable or contain recycled material, while it was also the first company to commercialize a fully recyclable PET bottle made partially from plant-based material, known as PlantBottle, in 2009. The PlantBottle packaging is made with up to 30 percent renewable materials from plants like sugarcane. It reduces dependence on fossil fuels, and since launch has eliminated the equivalent of more than 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from our PET plastic bottles. Through technology partnerships, Coca-Cola is working on a 100 percent renewable, fully recyclable plastic bottle.
“We reinvented our packaging,” said Perez. “We have distributed more than 40 billion PlantBottle packages in nearly 40 countries worldwide. It really changes the game.”
Coca-Cola has also launched initiatives that have recycled PET bottles into sheets, mobile phone chargers, iPad covers, notebooks and sustainable jewelry that are produced by local communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Apart from significantly reducing waste and the impact on the environment, these initiatives provide a source of income for people – especially women – in developing regions.
“These are made by women from around the world who used to not have an income. Now they have a viable income which can be invested in themselves and their communities,” said Perez. “Coca-Cola has been trying to lead and drive this, and it’s been really interesting to see how engaged consumers become once they start to understand the story behind this new way of thinking.”
Circular thinking also extends to natural resources, the most important of which for Coca-Cola is water. A lack of access to clean drinking water threatens human health and farming in communities worldwide and is another key area of Coca-Cola’s sustainable focus.
Coca-Cola’s global sustainability framework reflects circular thinking in its goal to replenish 100 percent of the water used globally by 2020. In China, Coca-Cola met its 2020 water replenishment goal six years ahead of schedule through 20 locally focused water resource management and protection projects covering 10 key river basins, including source water protection, sustainable agriculture, water loss and soil erosion control, flood utilization, wetland protection and recovery, reclaimed water reuse and mini-wetlands in rural areas.
“In the projects that test and clean water, which we use around world to provide safe cleaning drinking water for communities where water source might be contaminated, one of the key findings was the importance of educating people,” said Perez. But investing in the technical hardware to provide clean water wasn’t enough. Perez explained how local people would come to collect clean water in dirty buckets, negating the benefits. Education was key to understanding and through a program of pictorial instructions, Coca-Cola was able to enlighten the communities they came to help.
“I believe not just an innovation will do, but a transformation,” said Perez. “I believe in the ability of human beings to think and create the intellectual capability to drive these changes. The human brain power in this room is really the micro-chip of this world.”