Mixed Results From Coca-Cola 10-Year CSR Report
18 May 2016 at 11:10 am
Coca-Cola Enterprises, boasting 300 million customers, has shown some advancement in its 10-year corporate responsibility and sustainability report but has significant room for improvement, according to Australian CSR expert Jill Riseley.
Riseley, founder and managing director of Meliora Group, a strategic advisory firm specialising in corporate sustainability, said the European-based company had a “monumental footprint”, which made it important to assess its CSR performance.
“I’m not overly impressed at their performance to date, I don’t think the highlight of the report is actually looking backwards. They’ve done a bit in the last decade, but [they’re] certainly not… in a leadership position with their social impact in particular,” Riseley said.
“They have done some impressive environmental impact management, particularly around carbon.
“But, for example, they only established a responsible marketing committee last year, and I think that’s probably long overdue.
“What I am most optimistic about is moving forward, they’re being very, very clear on some of their commitments around labelling, around portion size, their environmental impacts seem well managed.”
According to the report, Coca-Cola Enterprises had reduced its products’ calories by 4.5 per cent and reached more than 130,000 people through education programs.
In regards to the environment, the corporation achieved a 40 per cent reduction in its carbon footprint and a 22 per cent reduction in packaging against a 2007 baseline. It also replenished 68 per cent of the water used in beverages which was sourced from areas of water stress.
“I would want to see more of a commitment there. I think there’s a good intent behind the report and there are leadership elements, but I think you still have to acknowledge the really significant footprint that Coca Cola has,” Riseley said.
“As an iconic brand I would want to see a continued effort in that space. They state that they were a leader in the space and I would dispute that, I would want to see more evidence of that.”
She said the challenge for major corporations was assessing net impact – whether the good created by the company outweighed its negative impact.
“Australians are exceptionally cynical about corporate communications, so we’re harsh critics and harsh judges of sustainability information,” she said.
“I am probably going to be harsher than someone who might be reading this report overseas, but a cynic would look at the report and say, it’s good you’re taking these initiatives and you’ve got these commitments, but how does that off-set the impact that you’re making.
“The question in my mind is are they doing enough to negate the negative impacts that they make, and I think that’s probably where the debate lies with this report.”
Coca-Cola Enterprises also set out future targets in its report. Riseley said they were “impressive” in parts but there was “a question about whether that’s enough”.
“They’ve got some good targets, so for three million people, which would be 1 per cent of their customer base, their aim is to have them participating in their active lifestyle program,” she said.
“They’ve made a commitment to reduce portion size, they’ve made a committment to have no or low-calorie beverages – that’s good but I’m not sure aspartame [a controversial artificial sweetener] is overly healthy.
“Importantly, they’ve made a commitment not to market any of their products to children under 12 and they won’t sell their products in primary schools, well that’s good but it is also in the high school years where children also start to develop healthy behaviours and independence.”
She said that transparency was important for corporations to achieve social impact while also gaining the trust of the general public.
“Some companies have done a really good job at convincing consumers and communicating really honestly and transparently,” she said.
“Transparency is absolutely key to being authentic, and… there’s an honesty and an authenticity underlying this report. Coke were very, very honest about the issues about obesity, and the size of obesity.
“I think they’ve absolutely made inroads there and there’s evidence of that, but I think that’s recent evidence.
“I don’t think the last 10 years shows leadership in that area, but I think this report is probably a milestone for them because the sophistication and the honesty is definitely there.”